Russian TV broadcasts in UK a ‘disinformation campaign’, says Dorries

Culture secretary has told Ofcom of ‘concerns over RT’ amid Ukraine crisis, Johnson tells Commons

The UK culture secretary has written to Ofcom asking it to look at whether the Russian TV station RT should be allowed to broadcast “harmful disinformation” in the UK, Boris Johnson told the Commons.

Challenged by Keir Starmer at prime minister’s questions over a “limited sanctions response” to the arrival of Russian forces in Ukraine, Johnson said the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, had contacted the broadcasting watchdog about RT.

Dorries’ letter to the regulator said RT was “demonstrably part of Russia’s global disinformation campaign”, and that it appeared clear the channel would seek to continue this role amid events in Ukraine.

“I have concerns that broadcasters such as RT, whom Ofcom have found to have repeatedly breached the broadcasting code in the past, will also look to spread harmful disinformation about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine here in the UK,” Dorries wrote.

Johnson announced the review after being challenged by Starmer over RT. “We must also do more to defeat [Vladimir] Putin’s campaign of lies and disinformation,” Starmer said. “Russia Today is his personal propaganda tool. I can see no reason why it should be allowed to continue to broadcast in this country.”

The decision to review RT’s licence was welcomed by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, and other senior figures in the Scottish National party. Sturgeon said she was “appalled” her former mentor Alex Salmond, her predecessor as first minister, still hosted a weekly chat show on RT.

She urged Salmond to quit and said no UK parliamentarian should appear on it. Stewart McDonald, the SNP’s defence spokesman at Westminster, agreed. “It is not a normal news service and we should stop treating it as such,” he said.

The pressure on Salmond intensified after Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, called for him to be expelled from the privy council, a constitutional body which gets confidential intelligence briefings and advises the queen. Salmond was appointed a privy counsellor in 2007 but is no longer an MP. He has not responded to these criticisms.

In PMQs the Labour leader also questioned Johnson over the extent of sanctions imposed on some Russian banks and a handful of individuals, announced on Tuesday. “The prime minister promised that in the event of an invasion, he would unleash a full package of sanctions. If not now, then when?” Starmer asked.

Johnson responded by saying the UK was “out in front” on sanctions, saying that further measures would be taken but that it was also necessary to impose them in union with allies.

Starmer called for the government’s delayed economic crime bill to be brought forward to help tackle complex networks of Russian money in the UK, and also demanded tougher rules on donations from shell companies.

“As it stands, the bill would allow unfettered donations from overseas to be made to UK political parties from shell companies and individuals with no connections to the UK,” Starmer said, calling for the government to back amendments to the bill, currently in the Lords, to tighten this up.

Johnson declined to do so, and instead mocked Starmer over the recent revelation that the Labour MP Barry Gardiner had received donations approaching £600,000 from a UK-based lawyer whom, it emerged, was working for the Chinese government.

Starmer replied by saying that Putin feared “openness and democracy”, and that the UK response should not be partisan. “So will the prime minister work across the house to ensure that this is the end of the era of oligarch impunity by saying that this house and this country will no longer be home for their loot?”

Johnson replied: “I don’t think that any government could conceivably be doing more to root out corrupt Russian money.”


Peter Walker Political correspondent and Severin Carrell Scotland editor

The GuardianTramp

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