News channel RT has been fined £200,000 for “a serious breach” of impartiality rules, Ofcom has said.

The Kremlin-backed broadcaster, formerly Russia Today, failed to preserve due impartiality in seven news and current affairs programmes between March 17 and April 26 2018, an investigation by the regulator found in December.

The programmes were mostly in relation to major matters of political controversy and current public policy – namely the UK Government’s response to the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury, and the Syrian conflict.

Two of the seven programmes featured former MP George Galloway.

An Ofcom spokeswoman said: “RT’s failings were a serious breach of our due impartiality rules, which protect public trust in news and other programmes.”

Diplomatic relations between the UK and Russian governments became icy following the poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, Wiltshire, in March 2018.

The broadcasting regulator said that RT’s breaches represented serious and repeated failures of compliance with its rules, and that they were particularly concerned by the frequency of its rule-breaking over a relatively short period of time.

George Galloway
George Galloway appeared on two of the programmes (Chris Radburn/PA)

Ofcom has directed RT to broadcast a summary of its findings, in a form and on dates to be determined by the watchdog.

The news channel has said it is considering legal options over the sanctions.

A statement from RT said: “It is very wrong for Ofcom to have issued a sanction against RT on the basis of its breach findings that are currently under Judicial Review by the High Court in London.

“RT went to court over Ofcom’s December findings against our network because we believe that they were reached in a manner contrary to the law and were wrong.

“Last month we received confirmation from a judge at a hearing in the High Court that, despite Ofcom’s opposition, our case against Ofcom should proceed.

“And while we continue to contest the very legitimacy of the breach decisions themselves, we find the scale of proposed penalty  to be particularly inappropriate and disproportionate per Ofcom’s own track record.

“It is notable that cases that involved hate speech and incitement to violence have been subject to substantially lower fines.

“It is astonishing that, in contrast, Ofcom sees RT’s programmes – which it thought should have presented more alternative points of view – as worthy of greater sanction than programmes containing hate speech and incitement to violence.

“We are duly considering further legal options.”