NATIONAL AND EU SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIA TODAY AND SPUTNIK 

1. The creation of Russia Today

Russia Today was created in 2005 as the Russian answer to the multiplication of international news channels, often described as tools of "public diplomacy" or of "soft power" : Worldnet (1983), TV5 Monde (1984), CNN International (1985), DW-TV (1992), RTP Internacional (1992), Euronews (1993), BBC World News (1995), Al Jazeera (1996), NHK World (1998), RAI News 24 (199), CGTN (2000), France 24 (2000). 

Russia Today RT is a brand of TV-Novosti, an autonomous non-profit organization founded by the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti in April 2005 and is funded by the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Media, part of the government of Russia. In 2005, RIA Novosti founded ANO TV-Novosti (or "Autonomous Non-profit Organization TV-News") to serve as the parent organization for RT. ANO TV-Novosti was registered on 6 April 2005. 

RT launched several new channels :

  • the first was in English (Russia Today, 10 December 2005, becoming RT or RT News in 2009) :

  • the Arabic language channel Rusiya Al-Yaum (thenj RT Arabic) in 2007 ;  

  • the Spanish language channel RT Actualidad in 2009 ;  

  • RT America – which focuses on the United States – in February 2010,  

  • the RT Documentary channel in 2011,

  • RT DE in German, launched the 6th November 2014

  • RT France should have been launched in 2014, but was postponed due to the Russian monetary crisis. It was launched as web channel in 2015 and then as TV channel the 18 December 2017. 

According to the thesis of the French researcher Maxime Audinet, the channel, initialy launched to give a positive image of Russia abroad this is after the war with Geoergia (2008) that the channel become a way of providing an "alternive view" of the world events and promoting a mix of skepticism and promotion of the Kremlin international policy.

In her research paper entitled Russian TV: Contesting European Values, published by the Reuters  Institute for the Study of Journalism in 2016,  Olga Smirnova, a senior journalist at the BBC Russian Service, considers whether the output of Russian TV channels may be interpreted as part of such a disinformation campaign; and if true, she aims to investigate the purposes of such efforts and to quantify them.  Here’s how Olga describes her research: ‘My research finds that both the international channel RT (Russia Today) and one of the most popular domestic TV channels in Russia (First Channel - FC) use the migration crisis in Europe to formulate a central message: the ineptitude of incumbent European governments. Three main frames are used to portray the European migration crisis: migrants as a threat, the migration crisis as leading to chaos and protests, and the crisis as revealing the ineffectiveness and weaknesses of the authorities, as well as revealing flaws in the democratic systems of either individual European countries or the EU as a whole.

These three dominant frames do not represent direct and straightforward disinformation. This is not fake news; rather it is a selective presentation of facts, or the presentation of opinion as fact.  The techniques that allow the reinforcement of these frames have some commonalities with propaganda messaging, in their repetitive quality, in lacking a variety of opinion and in their emotive style. FC reports contained emotive language more frequently, in 80% of cases, while RT was much more restrained and only 17% of its reports contained such language. Such a difference is explained by the different media and regulatory environment in which RT operates, as well as by different audience expectations.

Order and the absence of chaos emerge as a primary value in Russian TV reports on both channels. The ability of the authorities to preserve stability (as interpreted by Moscow) is viewed as an over-riding priority both internally and externally. The inability of the European authorities to sustain order is portrayed as part of their wider ineptitude.  The frames of migrants as posing a threat and what Russian TV portrays as excessive tolerance can be linked to the soft underbelly of European values, tolerance, which is under attack from both right-wing and left-wing forces in Europe.  The characterisation of Europe as lacking democracy and as a corrupt place where human rights are violated touches upon core values, over which the West also directs accusations against Russia.’ 

The COVID-19 pandemic  was a further thema of disinformation. An analysis by Radio Free Europe the of content produced by the Russian television network RT indicates the existence of two “parallel universes”: one for its domestic audience and a completely different one for international viewers. Long-term research by Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, reveals that when it comes to COVID-19 messaging, RT -- formerly known as Russia Today -- says all the right things about prevention, the importance of masks, and vaccination to its Russian-speaking audience, but peddles conspiracy theories and coronavirus falsehoods on its foreign-language platforms, in English, German, French, Spanish, and Arabic. 

A report by Nicolas Henin published in April 2021 shows the biased approach of both Sputnik France and RT France on the issue of vaccin against COVID-19 : 

  • Vaccines did not receive very significant media coverage in the Russian state-controlled media in French (namely Sputnik France and Russia Today En Français) until Russia had a candidate vaccine.

  • On average, articles shared by RT and Sputnik containing negative news on competing vaccines were more recirculated on Twitter than articles promoting Russian vaccines enthusiastically.

  • A review of fact-checked items showed that both Russian state-controlled media outlets and traditional media outlets published articles in French that were used to propagate anti-vaccine disinformation. However, while the core content of these articles often remained quite similar, Russian outlets tended to embrace a more alarmist tone-of-voice, clickbait titles and made factual approximations that left room for misleading interpretations. .

  • Narrative-wise, we found several ‘classic’ divisive narratives, including anti-establishment discourse to undermine confidence in the authorities or concerns over the limitations on civil liberties.

  • These outlets set up an artificial confrontation between two vaccines: the smaller but resourceful Sputnik V “David” against the giant Pfizer “Goliath”. However, the finding is based on data collected up to mid-February 2021; an update would likely reflect controversies related to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

2. Criticisims and first litigations before the invasion of Ukraine

In November 2014, Ofcom, has determined that RT  breached Ofcom’s rules on accuracy and impartiality in four news bulletins on the situation in Ukraine during March 2014. In a detailed 40-page decision, Ofcom concluded that in light of previous breaches (see IRIS 2014-2/22), the broadcaster is now being put “on notice” that any further breaches may result in further regulatory action, including statutory sanctions.

On the 7 March 2017, after RT and Sputnik gave platforms to politicians behind the British vote to leave the European Union, like Nigel Farage, a committee of the British Parliament released a report warning that foreign governments may have tried to interfere with the referendum. Russia and China, the report argued, had an “understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals” and practiced a kind of cyberwarfare “reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion.” 

 

 

As analysed by an article of the New York Times (13.9.2017), the sympathy of the Trump administration for the channel has increased its visibility in the US byt has also created concern for the role of RT in electoral process in Europe.

According to a report by Open Secrets, the U.S. production company that runs RT's American operations has received more than $100 million in Russian government funding since 2016, according to public filings, the largest subsidy of any recipient in the United States of so-called "foreign agent" funding from any country over that period. 

In October 2017, after the US Department of Justice insisted that RT America register as a "foreign agent" under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), the Russian Justice Ministry declared "foreign agents" several U.S.-government funded media outlets, including the Voice of AmericaRadio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and CNN. In November 2017, U.S. Congress stripped  RT of its press credentials. RT America's editor in chief, Margarita Simonyan, said that it would comply with the demand in order to avoid further legal action by the U.S. government, but blasted the move noting that registration also resulted in the TV channel losing its Congressional press credentials, and undermined assertions by the U.S. Department of Justice that FARA registration would not have any effect on the channel's ability to operate in the United States.

 

In 2018, the Department of Justice forced Russian state media operations in the U.S. to register as an agent of a foreign government. The American companies that sell airtime to Sputnik have similarly been forced to register. Legal filings show the Russian operation spends about $1.1 million per year buying U.S. airtime.

On 22 January 2022, the US Department of State did publish in 9 languages the report Kremlin-Funded Media: RT and Sputnik’s Role in Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem. : Russian state-owned and state-directed media, such as RT and Sputnik play a crucial role in how Russia uses disinformation to advance its foreign policy.  These state-funded, and state-directed outlets disseminate Russian narratives to foreign audiences, and regularly amplify content from the other pillars of Russia’s disinformation ecosystem, including websites associated with Russia’s intelligence services. The State Department’s Global Engagement Center’s “Kremlin-Funded Media: RT and Sputnik’s Role in Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem” report exposes Kremlin-controlled organizations that masquerade as independent media."

 

  • In France, RT France and Sputnik were accused to release fake news about the candidate Emmanuel Macron during the 2017 Presidential campaign. Sputnik thus published an op-ed from an LR deputy assuring that Macron was supported “by a rich gay lobby”. Previously, RT France and Sputnik had relayed the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, ensuring without any proof that the Clinton emails contained compromising revelations about the same Macron. Once elected President Macron, while receiving President Putin in Versailles, has called RT journalists "agents of influence and propaganda".

The 28 June 2018, RT France was given formal notice on by the French authority CSA for "breaches of honesty, rigor of information and diversity of points of view" in a subject on Syria. This decision is a prerequisite for a possible sanction. In a subject broadcast on April 13, "contesting the reality of the chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian region of Eastern Ghouta", the CSA notably observed "that the oral translation of the remarks made by a Syrian witness did not correspond in any way to what he expressed on the air", indicated the instance to justify this formal notice. The CSA also noted, with regard to another testimony, that "the oral translation attributed the order given to the local population to simulate the effects of a chemical weapons attack to the group Jaysh Al Islam, whereas the testimony did not point to any specific organization". The CSA noted that all the elements disseminated in this newspaper dealing with the situation in Syria "revealed a marked imbalance in the analysis, without, on such a sensitive subject, the different points of view having been exposed".

The conformity to the law was confirmed the 22 November 2019 by the Conseil d'Etat. In its judgment, the Council of State refers to the Convention concluded on September 2, 2015, by RT FRance and the CSA. It highlights the obligation, for the operator, of “honesty” and “rigor in the presentation and processing of information”; respect for the meaning of "images or words". Brought to determine the particular obligations of private television operators, the CSA is, by the same law of September 1986, vested with the power to sanction violations.

 

In the beginning of February 2022 Arcom, the new French authority replacing the CSA. was examining a complaint from an association opposed to the Kremlin which calls into question the “honesty and independence of information and programs” from the channel. 

RT brought defamation suits against Minister Griveaux, against Charlie Hebdo, two French experts who accused it of practicing disinformation, in particular about Syria. Minister Griveaux, Charlies Hebdo and the two researchers implicated, Nicolas Tenzer and Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer and were released.

  • On 30 June 2020,  Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council has banned the seven channels belonging to the multilingual network operated by RT : RT, RT HD, RT Arabic, RT Spanish, RT Documentary HD, RT Documentary and RT TV. 30 June 2020 saying that it is effectively controlled by a media figure, Dmitry Kiselev,  who is under European Union sanctions for his alleged role in promoting Kremlin propaganda in support of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Kiselev  mocked the move saying that he never was in charge of RT. He suggested that Latvia should apologize to the channel and put it back on air. The Council charged that RT attempted in its programs to present Latvia, a former Soviet republic of nearly 2 million, as a failed state.

  • In Germany, the 19 September 2021, YouTube decided to close the RT channels for diffusion of false information related to COVID-19 pandemy. This leas to a diplomatic crisis between Germany and the Russian Federation. On 16 December 2021, RT  launched RT DE, a new live German-language channel. However, it did not have a German broadcasting licence for the channel, but instead used a licence issued in Serbia. A previous attempt by the broadcaster to obtain a licence from Luxembourg had failed. However, since the broadcaster does not hold a German licence, the Medienanstalt Berlin-Brandenburg (Berlin-Brandenburg state media authority) opened proceedings against RT DE. The channel was initially available in Germany online and via satellite. However, shortly after its launch, a new RT DE YouTube channel was closed down because the video-sharing platform had banned RT’s German-language service a few weeks earlier. It was closed down after the broadcaster ignored a temporary ban, imposed after YouTube found that RT DE had broadcast Covid-related misinformation. Satellite operator Eutelsat suspended satellite distribution of RT DE on 22 December 2021. However, the service was still available online and via a mobile app., On 1st February 2022, ZAK said these services must immediately be discontinued, along with the satellite broadcast.

3. First national reactions after the invasion of Ukraine

The manner in which on February 24, 2022, RT reported on the invasion of Ukraine, presenting it as a simple "military operation in the Donbass" immediately led to a radicalization of criticism of it and to bans or proposed national ban.

  • In France, on 24 February, Laurent Lafon, the president of the Culture Committee of the Senate called for the “immediate” suspension of RT France. The centrist senator accuses it, in a letter sent to the regulatory authority Arcom and to the Minister of Culture, Roselyne Bachelot, of relaying "daily" the "propaganda actions" of Moscow.

  • On 25 February, the Polish National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) has adopted a resolution on the deletion of five Russian programmes from the register of TV programmes distributed in the ICT system and through satellite and internet platforms: Russia Today (RT), RT Documentary, RTR Planeta, Soyuz TV, Rossiya 24. Removal from the register means the inability to distribute the above-mentioned programmes in cable networks, satellite platforms and internet platforms.

  • The 28 February Ofcom has opened 15 new investigations into the due impartiality of news programmes on the RT news channel, followed by further 12 investigations on the same grounds, launched on 2 March.

  • On 1 March, the Bulgarian Council for Electronic Media took the decision to restrict retransmission of RT and Sputnik, and all their subsidiaries.

  • On 1 March, the National Association of Broadcasters called on U.S. broadcasters to “cease carrying any state-sponsored programming with ties to the Russian governmentt,” citing "the unprovoked aggression exhibited by Russia against the free and sovereign people of Ukraine."

  • YouTube, TikTok, and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, each separately announced some of the harshest measures taken thus far against RT. The social media companies said they had moved to block RT in Europe. The outlet's accounts will no longer be accessible to users on that continent through those companies' services, depriving RT of crucial venues to advance its messaging.

  • In Canada, two of the largest cable television providers, Rogers Communications and Bell Canada removed the channel from their lineups

 

4 The EU decision against RT and Sputnik [1]

In Europe, the RT channels have acquired a significant audience in their TV broadcasting, but above all via the Internet. Over the years, in several countries, these channels have been increasingly perceived as spreading false information undermining the democratic life of States. The destabilising role of disinformation led the European Union to set up an observation structure in 2015 (EU vs Disinformation) and a High-Level Group on fake news and online disinformation [2].

The High-Level Group mainly recommended positive measures in the framework of a so-called “multidimensional approach to disinformation”:

• enhance transparency of online news, involving an adequate and privacy-compliant sharing of data about the systems that enable their circulation online.

• promote media and information literacy to counter disinformation and help users navigate the digital media environment.

• develop tools for empowering users and journalists to tackle disinformation and foster a positive engagement with fast-evolving information technologies.

• safeguard the diversity and sustainability of the European news media ecosystem.

• continued research on the impact of disinformation in Europe to evaluate the measures taken by different actors and constantly adjust the necessary responses.

The invasion of Ukraine and the fact that RT and Sputnik promoted the official narrative of a "military operation in Donbass" rather than a war against the whole of Ukraine led the European Union to an unprecedented decision and the transition to a repressive policy. The 27th March, the President of the European Commission, Mrs Ursula von der Leyen, announced : "(...)  in another unprecedented step, we will ban in the EU the Kremlin's media machine. The state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as their subsidiaries will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin's war and to sow division in our Union. So we are developing tools to ban their toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe."

On 1 March 2022, the Council of the EU adopted Council Regulation (EU) 2022/350 of 1 March 2022 amending Regulation (EU) No 833/2014 concerning restrictive measures in view of Russia's actions destabilising the situation in Ukraine, a Decision pursuant to Article 29 TEU and a Regulation pursuant to Article 215 TFEU (“the EU Decision and Regulation”) by which it is prohibited for “operators to broadcast or to enable, facilitate or otherwise contribute to broadcast, any content by the legal persons, entities or bodies listed in Annex XV [RT- Russia Today English, RT- Russia Today UK, RT - Russia Today Germany, RT - Russia Today France, RT- Russia Today Spanish, Sputnik], including through transmission or distribution by any means such as cable, satellite, IP-TV, internet service providers, internet video-sharing platforms or applications, whether new or pre-installed”.[5] Any broadcasting licence or authorisation, transmission and distribution arrangement with RT and Sputnik are suspended. Furthermore, it is prohibited “to participate, knowingly and intentionally, in activities the object or effect of which is to circumvent such prohibitions in the Regulation including by acting as a substitute for natural or legal persons, entities or bodies referred to in Article 2e(3) or Article 2f, 5, 5a, 5b, 5e, 5f or 5h, or by acting to their benefit by using the exceptions in Article 2e(4), 5(6), 5a(2), 5a(5), 5b(2), 5b(3), 5e(2) or 5f(2) of Regulation (EU) No 833/2014”. 

The Regulation entered into force on 2 March 2022, the date of its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.

Rationale

 

According to the Recitals of the EU Decision and Regulation, the Russian Federation “has engaged in a systematic, international campaign of media manipulation and distortion of facts in order to enhance its strategy of destabilisation of its neighbouring countries and of the Union and its Member States.” [...] “Those propaganda actions have been channelled through a number of media outlets under the permanent direct or indirect control of the leadership of the Russian Federation. Such actions constitute a significant and direct threat 19 Council Decision (CFSP) 2022/351 of 1 March 2022 amending Decision 2014/512/CFSP concerning restrictive measures in view of Russia’s actions destabilising the situation in Ukraine, (EU) No 833/2014 concerning restrictive measures in view of Russia's actions destabilising the situation in Ukraine,  21 Council Regulation (EU) No 833/2014 of 31 July 2014 concerning restrictive measures in view of Russia's actions destabilising the situation in Ukraine, to the Union’s public order and security” and “are essential and instrumental in bringing forward and supporting the aggression against Ukraine, and for the destabilisation of its neighbouring countries”. The abovementioned restrictive measures will be maintained “until the aggression against Ukraine is put to an end, and until the Russian Federation, and its associated media outlets, cease to conduct propaganda actions against the Union and its Member States”. These measures “do not prevent those media outlets and their staff from carrying out other activities in the Union than broadcasting, such as research and interviews”. With regard to the competence of the European Union to take such restrictive measures, the Regulation explains that they “fall within the scope of the Treaty and, therefore, in particular with a view to ensuring their uniform application in all Member States, regulatory action at the level of the Union is necessary”.

5. The aftermath of the EU decision

In a press release, the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA) declared they were “committed to contribute to the swift and effective implementation of the measures by all stakeholders”. [3]

 

The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) also explained that “the Open Internet Regulation allows Internet access service providers to take traffic measures to block specific content, applications or services in order to comply with Union legislative acts. The amendment of Regulation 833/2014 is a legislative act that falls within the scope of the exceptions in Article 3(3) of the Open Internet Regulation.” BEREC Chair Annemarie Sipkes stated that to “enable a swift implementation of the sanctions, we want to make clear that there are no obstacles in the net neutrality rules to comply with the measures”. She added: “This means that BEREC member NRAs can facilitate Internet access service providers to comply with the measures by the EU.

 

Implementation started very rapidly in various countries by initiative of the regulators or by the distribution companies (Austria, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, Romania).

 

Many NRAs from EU member states who had not taken any prior measures to suspend the retransmission of programmes have now publicly communicated the EU regulation and decision and reminded players that these instruments are of immediate and direct application. The following NRAs have done so on their website: KommAustria (AT); CSA (BE); Medienrat (BE); VRM (BE); CEM (BG); RRTV (CZ); Arcom (FR); AEM (HR); MPRT (SE); AKOS (SI); CBR (SK) [4]  In Luxembourg, the government acted to have the channel rapidly withdraw from the SES-Astra satellites. SES has interrupted the signal for the UK Sky platform, even if UK was not part anymore of the EU. 
 

However, some Member States found that the implementation could go faster. During a radio interview the 27 March 2022, Simonas Kairys, Minister of Culture of Lithuania, complained that the implementation by Eutelsat was too slow.

6. RT and Sputnik material on social networks

Various reports have analysed how social networks were used by RT, Sputnik and other Russian agencies, to increase the circulation of their video contents. 

  • A study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue observed 50 Facebook groups categorised as either COVID-19 sceptics, anti-vaxxers, far-right or right-wing populists from 1 November 2021 (shortly after the build-up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border) and 27 February 2021 (4 days after Russia’s invasion). 41 of these groups have been active in the period of analysis. They have posted a total of 224,356 messages, out of which 7,271 (3.2%) are about Russia and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. In posts about Russia and Ukraine, de.rt.com was the most frequently shared news website and the 4th most frequently shared domain, with 512 links shared in the observed period. Posts containing these links have been reposted 1,111 times.

  • One other report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue analyses how how state-controlled media outlets like RT (formerly Russia Today), Sputnik News and RIA Novosti, among others, are using TikTok’s features to spread disinformation that describes Ukraine as the aggressor, frames its soldiers and political leaders as Nazis, and promotes false claims about the conflict. This investigation found that TikTok is more valuable for these outlets in terms of engagement than platforms like YouTube.   TikTok, content related to the invasion of Ukraine from Russian state-controlled outlets that are not labelled as such has been allowed to accrue millions of views. These videos often echo Kremlin propaganda, hateful content, and blatant disinformation on the subject of a developing conflict. TikTok is failing to provide additional context or transparency about the bias of these outlets to its users at a critical time.

 

The social networks also published statements informing on their actions against Russian disinformation : 

 

7. Criticisisms of the EU decision and the answer of the Commission

The decision was criticized by the Reuters Institute for STudies on Journalism;, International Federation of Journalist (IFJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the Reuters Institute both for legal aspects and for its counter-productive effects in Russia and other countries like Mali, quoting this decision as an excuse for their censorship practices. Various lawyers and intellectuals also criticized the decision. [5]  Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford, warned that RT's real influence on the greater public in the U.K. in particular and considerations of freedom of expression had to be carefully assessed, particularly during a major crisis.  “It's one thing to be critical of these outlets … It's another thing entirely to make a political decision to ban them or to encourage other actors to ban them without providing a sort of a clear and public justification as to why that is being done,” he said, referring to the need to preserve freedom of expression in democratic countries and avoid a crackdown on media organizations.

In France, the criticism in the press was mainly oriented on the legal procedure, with the argument that it was up to the national authority ARCOM to withdraw the licence and on the professional impact of 175 employees being deprived of their job. The EU decision  was reduced by the press to a simple French story.[6]

 

According to a study by Institut pour le dialogue stratégique (ISD) the ban was also criticzed on the social networks by the complotists. 

Various complaints were filed: 

  • The management of RT France has lodged an application for interim relief before the European Court. This was rejected on the 30rd March 2022. The court announced will examine the complaint on the fund in an emergency procedure, i.e., within 6 months. On 27 July theGrand Chamber of the General Court dismisses RT France’s application for annulment of acts of the Council[7].

  • In France also, a complaint was introduced by RT and one union against decision of the commission for the identity card of professional journalists to reject, as of March 2, 2022, requests for press cards submitted by journalists from RT France. The complaint was rejected by the Conseil d'Etat the 1st April 2022.

  • In the Great-Duchy of Luxembourg, the parent company of "Russia Today" has lodged an appeal against the Prime Minister's refusal of its project for a Luxembourg-licensed television channel. But the case is on hold because the pro-Kremlin channel can no longer find a lawyer to defend it.[8]

  • The main Dutch journalists' union the 25 May 2022 filed a lawsuit challenging the European Union's ban on Russian state-backed media outlets as a violation of European citizens' own rights to freedom of information.

As an answer to the criticisms, speaking at the name of the European Commission, the High Representative/Vice-President Josepp Borrel made the following statement the 8 March 2022. [9]

 

"Most importantly, we have imposed costs on the perpetrators, including through banning Russia Today and Sputnik from broadcasting in the European Union. Because they are not independent media; they are assets, they are weapons in the Kremlin’s manipulation ecosystem. 

I want to stop here because there have been criticisms saying that we are attempting against the freedom of information. Let us consider what is information and what these outlets are. Let me take a moment to underline the essence of this issue. We are not trying to decide what is true and what is false. I am not the Minister of Truth; we do not have Ministers of Truth. What we have to focus on are foreign actors, who intentionally, in a coordinated manner, try to manipulate our information environment to advance their own purposes and to harm us.

Allow me to say this in Spanish. 

La democracia es un sistema que funciona en base a la información. La información es el combustible de la democracia. Los ciudadanos actúan como ciudadanos en base a la información que reciben. En base a lo que saben, como interpretan la realidad, juzgan a sus gobernantes y deciden su voto. La democracia es un sistema cuyo combustible es la información. Si la información es mala, la democracia es mala. Si la información está sistemáticamente sesgada y contaminada por la mentira, los ciudadanos no pueden tener cabal conocimiento de la realidad y su juicio político está sesgado.

Por eso tenemos que defender que la información sea un bien protegido. Cuando usted va a comprar carne en un supermercado, tiene garantías sobre la calidad de ese producto, para evitar que consumirlo le produzca una enfermedad. Tiene que haber también alguna clase de garantía para que la información no sea un elemento que contamine las mentes.

La democracia funciona con la información y, por eso, Rusia ha creado Sputnik. Sputnik no es un inocente medio que tiene una determinada visión de la realidad. 

Sputnik is not a media that understands things in a certain way. Sputnik was created by a Russian Presidential decree, with the aim to report on the state policy of Russia abroad. And according to Russia Today’s editor-in-chief, Russia Today is capable of conducting an information war against the whole Western world. Both channels [Sputnik and Russia Today] facilitate and engage in cyber-facilitated influence operations, including those that have been attributed to the Russian Military Intelligence, the famous GRU.

To be able to respond equally in a quick and decisive manner in the future, I will propose a new mechanism that will allow us to sanction those malign disinformation actors. This will be part of a broader toolbox that we are currently working on, to further enhance our capacity to act. This toolbox will be structured across four cross-cutting dimensions, improving our situational awareness. First, to build up our resilience and those of our partners, by stepping up our support to independent media and civil society in third countries and boosting the strategic communication capacities of our Delegations. Being that a tool of foreign policy I am always talking about third countries, as it is my colleagues from the Commission who are working inside European Union territories. But there is a lot of work to do in order to support our partners around the world.

Second, to ensure disruption of such malign activities and regulatory responses to them – the Code of Practice and the Digital Services Act, on which Vice-President [for Values and Transparency, Věra] Jourová will say more, are crucial elements in this regard.

I am not going to go deeper on this Code of Practice and Digital Services because Vice-President [for Values and Transparency, Věra] Jourová knows more than I about it.

And, last but not least, a continuous diplomatic response and instruments within the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Within our foreign policy we have to introduce the concept of information battles. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I coined the sentence “battle of narratives”. This battle of narratives is every day more important. Look at what is happening in Africa, what do you think? People are influenced by what they are being told. And at the end it goes up to the political scale and finally it converts in votes in the international institutions. 

This brings me to the report by the INGE Committee, which I welcome so much. This report shows appreciation of the work that my service has been doing and constantly expanded on since we received this mandate by the [European] Council in 2015. I want to assure you that we take your recommendations very much into account, including your proposal for new structures to make our work even more efficient and sustainable.

"The European Union measures against Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik adopted on 2 March 2022 have resulted in the temporary suspension of broadcasting or emission rights of these two channels, to disarm instruments of Russia’s war propaganda – at a time when it is waging a war against Ukraine. The President of the General Court has recently rejected RT’s request for interim relief against those measures.

This position was confirmed in one Answer given by High Representative/Vice-President Borrell i Fontelles on behalf of the European Commission (6.5.2022)

8. Switzerland and Norway do not follow the EU - Channel authorised in South Africa

 

  • In Switzerland the Federal Council decided "not to implement the EU measure of March 1, 2022 regarding the distribution of content from certain Russian channels, namely 'Sputnik' and 'Russia Today'". The argument is “Although these channels are tools of targeted propaganda and disinformation by the Russian Federation, the Federal Council believes that countering untrue and harmful statements with facts is more effective than banning them.”[9]. Nevertheless, as end of March 2022, Swiss TV cable and IPTV operators Swisscom, Sunrise UPC, Salt and others have removed the Russian channel Russia Today from their packages. 

  • On 26 April 2022, Anette Trettebergstuen, Minister of Culture, announced that Norway would not implement sanctions : “The threshold to restrict freedom of expression under the Constitution's Article 100 is high, and we do not currently see that a general blocking of these actors could be legitimised by the threats imposed to basic societal functions in Norway”. 

9. Sanctions in other non-EU countries

  • On 28 February 2022, at the request of the Minister of Media, Culture and Sports, Ofcom, the UK regulator, opened 15 new investigations into the due impartiality of news programmes on the RT news channel. This takes the total number of RT programmes under investigation to 27. Ofcom has observed a significant increase in the number of programmes on the RT service that warrant investigation under the Broadcasting Code. OFCOM announced on 18 March 2022 the revocation of RT's licence to broadcast in the UK, with immediate effect.

  • In Moldova, on 2 March 2022, the Committee for Extraordinary Situations of the Republic of Moldova issued a decision providing for the suspension of programmes originally produced in countries that had not ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television (except for EU, US and Canadian programmes, and films and entertainment programmes in general). It also temporarily grants the Audiovisual Council the power to suspend licences and retransmission.

  • End of Februray, after the Ukraine invsaion, the The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched an investigation into a large number of media, telecom and infrastructure companies that operate in the United States with ties to Russia. The FCC said on 14 March 2022 that new requirements mandating broadcasters disclose when foreign governments or their representatives lease time on their airwaves take effect today. The channel was removed from the services offered by DirecTV and by Roku on March 1, 2022, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and from Dish Network and Sling TV on 4 March. Ora Media announced pausing production on several shows it produced for RT America.

10. Limits to the implementation of the ban

  • The channel RT Documentary is not on the EU decision list of the banned channels, albeit providing the same kind of propaganda. The channel was still indicated as accessible free-to-air on Hotbird 13B and on BulgarSat 1  by Lyngsat.com as at 8.6.2022. Its website and Facebook pages are not accessible anymore. 

  • The EU Decision is interpreted by the European satellite operators as applicable only on the EU market and not for transmission outisde of the EU :

    • French satellites Eutelsat continue to broadcast RT News on Eutelsat 36B  and RT DE to Russia is broadcast on the Express AMU 1, satellite owned by RSCC on which Eutelsat rents capacities for his client NTV Plus.

    • The transmission free-to-air of RT Arabic, non baned by the EU decision,  started on the satellite Eutelsat 8B West B the 3 March 2022, i.e. the day after the publication of the decision in the Official Journal.  

    • the Luxembourg satellites SES continue to broadcast RT News in South Africa (for Starsat) and India (for Airtel).

  • The livre stream and selections of videos of RT News are still accessible in Europe through Internet platforms established outside of the EU : at least two estbalished in US and two in Russia.

  • A report by the The Disinformation Situation Center quoted by Euronews found that articles from Kremlin-backed media Sputnik and Russia Today (RT) were still visible to EU users on social media.  The report found that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube are identifying and labelling content only with "varying degrees of success". Twitter was found to be the most effective at flagging material but has still failed to remove 47 RT or Sputnik-linked channels including Radio Sputnik's account. The report also found that Russian state media content was still available to EU Facebook users through proxy websites. Visual content bearing RT logos was also still visible. Instagram had blocked or removed just 28 out of a total of 72 accounts linked to the two Kremlin-backed media groups, while 44 YouTube channels were still active, according to the report. Researchers also noted that individual RT and Sputnik journalists have continued to disseminate Russian propaganda about the war. "RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan has adapted her social activities and is playing a pivotal role in amplifying Russian state media content, unchecked by the social platforms," researchers said. "Instead of retweeting, Simonyan posted verbatim copies from RT dispatches," they added. The report also stated that RT's main international website remains accessible through a virtual private network (VPN) and the broadcaster's German-language podcasts were still available on Apple platforms. Content from both RT and Sputnik is still readily available to EU users on the Russian messaging service Telegram.

  • A French study for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) analysed the impact of the RT and Sputnik ban on the French public of social networks.

    • As a result of the measures taken by the EU, a decrease significant exposure to broadcast content on the social networks of the accounts of RT France and Sputnik France was observed. The establishment of these restrictions has largely limited the activity of these two media dependent on the Russian state, to the point of bring about a complete halt in the production of content by Sputnik France on March 4, 2022

    • Some flaws in the implementation in the suspension of access to Sputnik and RT, may nevertheless be underlined. Ways of cirrcumvention of the geo-blocking measures were identified, in particular by modifying certain platform functionality. Additionally, a multitude of solutions have been promoted by some actors (including the use of a VPN, certain search engines) in order to ignore these restrictions. In fact, it always seems possible to access RT and Sputnik despite the measures.

    • ISD has also observed calls to migrate to alternative online spaces (notably Vk), with the risk that a new public finds itself in online spaces all the more extreme since subject to less moderation. These calls have no however, did not lead to a massive movement towards more permissive platforms, compared to other European branches of RT (RT DE or RT Spanish).

    • The suspension of access to RT and Sputnik has furthermore contributed to fueling certain conspiratorial narratives and protesters, particularly vis-à-vis the French government, European authorities and digital platforms, reactivating a anti-institutional rhetoric denouncing a “censorship” implemented by these three types of actors, echoing the narratives observed during the Covid 19 pandemic.

  • According to some press records, RT France is considering to target the subsaharian Africa. [10]

  • Early June 2022, RT France published on Internet annoucements for recruitments of video editors,  reporters deputy chief editors and chief editors [11]

  • In her statement in the Soloviev programme on Rossiya 1, 11 April, Margarita Simonian, Editor in chief of Russia Today, announced that she was working on alternatives to the EU sanction, that she could not disclose yet. The 24 April, on Rossiya 1, Margarita Simonyan described her latest "chain mail" project: disseminating propaganda videos about Putin's war in Ukraine by having people send it through private messages. Those videos are being produced in 15 languages and may not bear an RT logo.

Conclusions : the censorship dream of Margarita Simonian

The flagship programme of RT France was the talk show "Interdit d'interdire" animated by the journalist Frédéric Taddei, a former employee of the public service. Know for inviting personalities with extreme and often marginal view, Taddei was proposing a concept of radical freedom of expression, without any restriction. This conception, which corresponds to the one of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, was a provocation in front of the most restrictive European conception, as formalised by the article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, the second paragraph oh which states that "The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary". 

 

But the real paradox is that the US principle of radical freedom of expression as defended by Taddei was promoted on a TV channel financed by a regime where the freedom of expression is considered as a threat. The real philosophy behind  rhetoric was voiced by Rossia Today's editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonian during an intervention on Rossiya 1 the 12th April 2022. She argued that the rare period of freedom of expression in Russian history (1905-1917 and Perestroïka) turned in disaster, that no great country can exist without a control of information, she praised China's centralized information regime and asserted that freedom of expression was imposed by Westerners in the Russian Constitution.

Margarita Simonian was listed on the EU sanction list by the Council Decision (CFSP) 2022/265 of 23 February 2022  as  "a central figure of the Government propaganda. (...) Through her function, she promoted a positive attitude to the annexation of Crimea and the actions of separatists in Donbas.

Therefore, she supported actions and policies which undermine the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine".

Last up-date : 8.9.2022

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Deirdre Kevin, Francesca Pellicanò and Agnes Schneeberger, Television News Channels in Europe, European Audiovisual Observatory, 2013.

Olivier Koch, Tristan Mattelart, dirs, Géopolitique des télévisions transnationales d’information‪, Mare & Martin, coll. Mediacritic, 2016, 276 pages‪

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maxime Audinet, Russia Today (RT): un média d'influence au service de l'État russe, INA, 2021 - 188 pages

Ilya YablokovPrecious N Chatterje-Doody, Russia Today and Conspiracy Theories: People, Power and Politics on RT, Routledge, 8 juin 2021 - 116 pages

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Two Faces Of RT: Russia's Competing COVID Narratives, Current Time TV, 26.10.2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russia Today chief labels US intelligence report 'a joke', BBC News, 20.1.2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

YouTube shuts German channels of Russia's RT | DW News

 

 

Germany bans Russia Today from broadcasting its German language channel due to licence issues, Euronews, 3 February 2022

Louis Guémart, RT France : une guerre sans images ni faits, Arrêt sur images. 

 

 

 

 

RT, la chaîne de télé russophile de plus en plus contestée - C à Vous , 24.2.2022

[1] This segment is in great part extracted from Francisco Cabrera The implementation of EU sanctions against RT and Sputnik, Note by the European Audiovisual Observatory, 17 March 2022. The EU official statements, press release and legal text can be found here : EU imposes sanctions on state-owned outlets RT/Russia Today and Sputnik's broadcasting in the EU. 

See also on the EC website  : RESTRICTIONS ON RUSSIAN STATE-OWNED MEDIA (Article 2f of Regulation 833/2014) FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS – AS OF 23 MARCH 2022

[2] European Commission Final report of the High Level Expert Group on Fake News and Online Disinformation, April 2018 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ursula von der Leyen et Josep Borrell annoncent de nouvelles sanctions contre Moscou, France 24, 27.2.2022

EU bans RT and Sputnik Media for their role in Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem, EU Debates, 27.2.2022

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alberto Alemanno, international lawyer, defends the decision of the European Union, Youtube channel Diego Malcangi, 3.5.2022

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[3]  ERGA stands united and ready to contribute to the effectiveness of new EU economic sanctions on Russian state-controlled media”, ERGA Press release, 2 March 2022. 

Sur RT France, les adieux d'une présentatrice avant la fermeture de la chaîne, Le HuffPost, 2.3.2022

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[4] “NRAs communicate the EU regulation and decision to ban RT and Sputnik to stakeholders, some extend banfurther”, EPRA, 7 March 2022 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[5] Marc Le Roy, “RT France : que peut faire l’ARCOM ?”, BLIP 25.2.2022.

"Fighting disinformation with censorship is a mistake", EFJ, 1.3.2022. 

Jean-Marie Klinkenberg, Guerre en Ukraine: Les faibles voix grises couvertes par la voix unique, Le Soir, 4.3.2022

RT et Sputnik interdits en Europe : « N’imitons pas Vladimir Poutine en censurant », L’OBS, 4.3.2022

IPI: Statement on banning of RT and Sputnik, Interntaional Press Institure, 4.3.2022

 

Alice Dive, Ricardo Gutiérrez, Bernard Guetta, “Interdire RT : est de la censure ?”, La Libre, 5.3. 2022 ;

Luca Bertuzzi, The Brief – Should we give the word to those who would take it from us?, Euractiv, 8.3.2022

Baade, Björnstjern, The EU’s “Ban” of RT and Sputnik: A Lawful Measure Against Propaganda for War, VerfBlog, 8.3.2022

Emmanuel Derieux, Interdiction de diffusion des médias russes en Europe, Le club des juristes, 11.3.2022

Laurent Mauduit, RT France et Sputnik fermés au terme d’une procédure d’exception, Médiapart, 14, Mars 2022.

Anya Proops, A war of words: EU sanctions and the blocking of online ‘disinformation, Panopticon, 16.3.2022.

Igor Popović, The EU Ban of RT and Sputnik: Concerns Regarding Freedom of Expression, EJIL Talk, 30.3.2022.

Dirk Voorhoof, EU legt Russia Today en Sputnik het zwijgen op: twee maten en twee gewichten, De Juristenkrant 2022/448, 16-17

Grégoire Weigel, La suspension précipitée des activités de diffusion de Russia Today et de Sputnik, Legipresse, 12 avril 2022

Mark Mac Cartthy, Why a push to exclude Russian state media would be problematic for free speech and democracy, TechTank, 14.4.2022

Dirk Vorhoof, EU silences Russian state media: a step in the wrong direction, Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University, 9.5.2022

Natali Helberger, Wolfgang Schulz, Understandable, but still wrong: How freedom of communication suffers in the zeal for sanctions, LSE, 10.5.2022

[6] Juliette Charbonneaux, Comment l’interdiction de Russia Today et Sputnik par l’UE est devenue un problème français, The Convversation, 23.3.2022

[7] Tribunal de l'Union européenne : Opération militaire en Ukraine : le président du Tribunal rejette la demande de RT France visant à suspendre les sanctions adoptées par le Conseil, 30 mars 2022 ; Judgment of the General Court in Case T-125/22 | RT France v Council The Grand Chamber of the General Court dismisses RT France’s application for annulment of acts of the Council, adopted following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, temporarily prohibiting that organisation from broadcasting content, 27.7.2022

[8«Russia Today» à l’offensive, mais sans défense, Reporter.lu, 14.4.2022

Xenia Fedorova, directrice RT France : "Nos journalistes sont interdits dans l'Ouest de l'Ukraine", Sud Radio, 4.3.2022

[9Opening statement by Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the Union, and Věra Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission, on the foreign interference in all democratic processes in the EU, extract from the Plenary Session of the EP, European Parliament, 8 March 2022

 

At the Parliament, 23 February 2022, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces that Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has asked regulator Ofcom to review the operation of the Russia Today news channel. (The Sun, 23.2.2022)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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La chaîne Russia Today, un outil de propagande officiel du régime de Vladimir Poutine ?, Europe 1, 25 février 2022

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Beam of the Eutelsat West 8B satellite, broadcasting RT Arabic since 3 March 2022

Canada bans Russian state media from airwaves, CBC News, 17.3.2022

The rise and fall of RT America, CNN, 22.4.2022

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[10Russie-Afrique : bloquée en Europe, Russia Today veut émettre en Afrique de l’Ouest, Jeune Afrique, 16.3.2022

Le continent africain dans le viseur de la chaîne russe RT, Le Monde, 28.3.2022

[11] Le Canard enchaîné, 8 June 2022

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Maxime Audinet, auteur d'un livre sur la chaîne Russia Today : "RT France a aujourd'hui plus de mal à trouver sa place dans le paysage médiatique", France-Info, Décembre 2021

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Advisory by @Twitter about posts from RT (Russia Today), the Russian State backed channel. 2.3.2022

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The RT back-up channel blocked on Telegram 6.3.2022

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La présence de RT france sur certains FAI est encore signalée début septembre 2022 (ici Post Luxembourg, 10.9.2022)

Margarita Simonian on Rossiya 1  "Censorship is necessary in Russia" (Youtube channel 06:21:03:11 OFF)

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Margarita Simonian on Rossiya 1, 6.4.2022

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On the 6th of September 2022, the Centre for Democratic Integrity presented its new research report, “RT in Europe and beyond”, at the Press Club Brussels. The presentation panel included:

  • MEP Michael Gahler (CDU/EPP, Germany)

  • MP Maria Mezentseva (Sluha narodu, Ukraine)

  • Anton Shekhovtsov (Centre for Democratic Integrity, Austria)

  • Silvia Stöber (ARD, Germany)

  • Hugo Littow (L’Echo, Belgium)

The Russian state-controlled “Russia Today” media network was founded in 2005 and later emerged as the Kremlin’s primary instrument of influencing international audiences. The network’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan openly admitted that it was waging an information war against the West and compared RT to the Russian Ministry of Defence.

Especially since 2009, when Russia Today was re-organised into RT, this media network became notorious for targeting European and other societies with polarising and divisive rhetoric, for promoting and amplifying conspiracy theories, spreading disinformation, and subverting liberal democracy.

The report “RT in Europe and beyond” is a result of the collective endeavour of academics, journalists, experts and members of civil society, who produced the first detailed exploration of RT and its services in English, French, German and Spanish languages, as well as RT’s problematic reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and use of conspiracy theories.

Individual chapters of the report can be found below. The entire report, including the introductory chapter by the editor Anton Shekhovtsov, can be downloaded here.