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UK probes Russian broadcaster RT amid Ukraine crisis

LONDON — The U.K. government has ordered a review into Russian broadcaster RT and promised new weapons for Ukraine after Russia moved troops into the Eastern European country Monday night.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that U.K. TV regulator Ofcom had been urged to consider whether RT should continue to hold a broadcasting licence, in a bid to guard against the spread of “harmful disinformation.”

Speaking to the U.K. parliament on Wednesday, Johnson added that the U.K. would be “shortly” providing a “further package of military support for Ukraine.”

It will include both “lethal aid in the form of offensive weapons, and non-lethal aid,” he said, “in light of the increasingly threatening behavior from Russia.”

The moves follow an initial package of sanctions unveiled Tuesday. The U.K. has also pledged further sanctions to hit Russian defense firms and campaign groups, among others.

Britain has also offered to guarantee up to $500 million in loans to support Ukraine and mitigate the economic effects of Russian aggression.

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer urged Johnson to go harder on the sanctions than those that have been announced, and said RT was Putin’s “personal propaganda tool.” “I can see no reason why it should be allowed to continue to broadcast in this country,” he added.

But during Prime Minister’s Questions, Johnson shot back: “We live in a country that believes in in free speech and I think it’s important that we should leave it up to Ofcom rather than to politicians to decide which media organizations to ban. That’s what Russia does.”

The details of the RT probe were contained in a letter to the regulator from Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.

Responding to Dorries’ letter, Ofcom Chief Executive Melanie Dawes said the regulator was “keeping the situation under close review” and had stepped up its oversight of coverage of the Ukraine crisis in the U.K.

Ofcom’s broadcasting code requires licensees to report the news with “due accuracy” and “due impartiality,” she said, but broadcasters can present issues from a “particular perspective” provided alternative views and opinions are also represented, she added. 

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