RIGA (Reuters) - Latvia's media watchdog on Tuesday took the Russian broadcaster RT off-air, calling its channels "propaganda" and citing its ties to EU-sanctioned Russian media executive Dmitry Kiselyov.
The regulator said RT had tried to portray Latvia as a failed country and that Latvia's security services saw RT as the most influential Russian propaganda channel in the west of Europe.
Seven RT channels - RT, which shows news and current affairs programmes, RT HD, RT Arabic, RT Spanish, RT Documentary, RT Documentary HD, and RT TV were taken off-air because they are controlled by Kiselyov, head of the Russian Federal State news agency Rossiya Segodnya, who has been sanctioned by the EU since 2014, the watchdog said.
"We have made the decision based on the information at our disposal that these (TV) programmes are under de facto control of Dmitry Kiselyov," said the watchdog's chairman Ivars Abolins in a statement.
Kiselyov became subject to EU sanctions in March 2014 due to his role in "government propaganda supporting the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine" the EU said at the time.
"Our evidence is very convincing, and we will ask all the regulators within the EU to follow our example and to ban RT in their territory," Abolins added.
RT said in a statement given to Reuters: "we congratulate Latvia's secret services and national media council on finally being able to defend the country's entire Arab and Spanish speaking population from RT, 'the most influential Russian propaganda channel'."
Kiselyov told Russian news agency RIA, "This decision is an indicator of the level of stupidity and ignorance of the Latvian authorities, blinded by Russophobia... the declared basis for the ban has no legal sense, therefore Latvia should immediately return RT broadcasting to the air."
Latvia's watchdog previously suspended several Russian TV channels, saying they had spread false and misleading information or propaganda about the country's history and claimed that the rights of Russian speakers are being violated in Latvia.
About 30 percent of Latvia's population speaks Russian as a first language. Most Russian speakers are ethnic Russians. Latvia also has domestic broadcasting in Russian.
(Reporting by Gederts Gelzis; Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow and Polina Devitt; Editing by Colm Fulton and Alexandra Hudson)