The BBC risks being banned in Russia if Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT is shut down in the UK, Liz Truss has warned.
The Foreign Secretary told MPs a “careful judgment” is required as retaliatory action against the BBC would harm efforts to ensure Russians “hear the truth” about the invasion of Ukraine.
Concerns have been raised over RT – formerly Russia Today – with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer labelling it Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “personal propaganda tool” which spreads “lies and disinformation”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also criticised RT for “peddling” material that is “doing a lot of damage to the truth” and called for Ofcom to look at if it is “infringing the rules of this country”.
On Monday evening, Ofcom announced it has opened 15 new investigations into the “due impartiality” of news programmes on RT.
Speaking in the House of Commons, SNP MP Chris Law (Dundee West) said: “The last eight years there has been a war, it’s not been the last few days.
“During that time it’s not just been military warfare but one of communications, known as hybrid warfare.
“Yesterday the EU decided to shutdown RT and Sputnik.
“So can the Foreign Secretary confirm that where she’s leading in some areas, will she follow the EU and shutdown RT and Sputnik immediately – simply because yesterday as I was watching it, there was a documentary completely about the Nazification in 2014 Crimea, which is wholly untrue and it’s been put on television screens today.”
Ms Truss replied: “We are looking at what can be done on RT but the reality is that if we ban RT in the United Kingdom, that is likely to lead to channels like the BBC being banned in Russia.
“What we want is the Russian population to hear the truth about what Vladimir Putin is doing, so there’s a very careful judgment to be made, and that is something the Culture Secretary is looking at.”
Last week Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries asked Ofcom to review the operation of RT, which she said was “demonstrably part of Russia’s global disinformation campaign”.
In a response, Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes told Ms Dorries the regulator had “already stepped up our oversight of coverage of these events by broadcasters in the UK”.
She said while broadcasters can cover issues from a “particular perspective” as long as balance is achieved, that “it would not be acceptable for any of our licensees to broadcast one-sided propaganda”.
RT has also suggested Ofcom would need to look at the BBC too if the regulator is to take it to task over “state sponsorship”.
Anna Belkina, RT’s deputy editor-in-chief, said in a statement: “What we have witnessed over the last few days, be it comments from the President of the EU Commission or from the UK PM Boris Johnson, is that none of them had pointed to a single example, a single grain of evidence that what RT has reported over these days, and continues to report, is not true.
“Instead, what they have said is that the honest information that RT brings to its audience is simply not allowed in their supposedly free media environment. When it comes to the Russian voice, or just a different perspective from theirs, it is not allowed to exist in their space.
“This collective Western establishment seems to be terrified of a mere presence of any outside voice for the fear of losing their historically captive audience, if that audience encounters a different perspective.
“Yet what they fail to realise is that it is their own echo chamber that seeds the public mistrust that they have so long lamented. They will reap what they sow.”