On April 18, 2017, the Russian embassy in London took to Twitter to condemn a recent article in The Times, which had described the Russian state-owned RT and Sputnik media networks as “fake news outlets.”
The embassy tweeted a scan of the relevant section of the Times article, added the claim that “none of the above media ever found in breach of due accuracy by Ofcom,” the UK’s broadcasting regulator, and demanded that either the newspaper apologize or Ipso, Britain’s press regulatory body, “step in.”
Several respondents on Twitter commented that RT had indeed been criticized by Ofcom, but the embassy doubled down and replied:
This is false. RT has been found in breach of Ofcom broadcasting codes, including those related to “due accuracy,” on several occasions.
The broadcast took place as fighting was nearing a crescendo in Libya, with rebel fighters, supported by NATO air strikes, gaining the upper hand over the forces of Muammar Gaddafi. During the news segment, RT’s correspondent in Tripoli, Lizzie Phelan, said the following:
“Of course we know that at the beginning of the crisis and continuously, the
international media, the Western media – and Al Jazeera in particular – has [sic] been responsible for a number of really grave lies. Of course there was the lie that Gaddafi was attacking his own people, which thanks to the satellites of Russian intelligence proved that there were no such attacks from the air that took place.”
Ofcom noted that it was well-established that the Libyan regime had conducted air strikes against civilians in rebel-held areas, with United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemning such attacks in April 2011.
Furthermore, the Russian government itself had declined to veto Resolution 1973 [https://www.un.org/press/en/2011/sc10200.doc.htm] in the UN Security Council, which, in response to attacks on civilians by the Gaddafi regime, imposed a no-fly zone, an arms embargo, and authorized “all necessary means to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas.”
In addition to ruling that this news segment had breached regulations with regards to due accuracy, Ofcom also found in the same report that two other RT broadcasts had breached elements of the Broadcasting Code concerning impartiality.
Three years later, Ofcom ruled that a March 2014 RT broadcast -- this time an investigative program alleging that the BBC had “staged” a chemical weapons attack in Syria to discredit the regime of Bashar al-Assad -- had breached Rule 2.2 of the Broadcasting Code:
“Factual programmes or items or portrayals of factual matters must not materially mislead the audience.”
While the Ofcom report found a myriad of failings in the program, it avoided ruling on the veracity of the chemical weapons attack described by the BBC in the report criticized by RT. It did however find that the program had deliberately misrepresented the content of a letter of complaint to the BBC from one member of the public as being the findings of a “massive public investigation.”
The broadcast in question was an episode of the now-cancelled Truthseeker series, which became infamous after spreading lurid and patently false claims that Ukrainian soldiers had crucified a child in the Donbas town of Slovyansk.
Meanwhile, the Russian Embassy in London has, itself, acquired a reputation for fabrication and distortion, with a rather eccentric Twitter presence that has already been the subject of two previous Polygraph.info debunkings.
It is nonetheless remarkable that on this occasion the embassy had the gall to demand not only an apology from The Times but also to suggest an intervention from the press regulator, dependent on a claim that is so easily refuted by reference to public records.