The Kremlin-backed news channel Russia Today, or RT, will launch a dedicated UK TV channel on Thursday to “dissect the implications of major international developments for UK audiences”.
RT, which has been criticised as a propaganda mouthpiece for the Russian government, said RT UK would “focus on the issues that matter most to Britons”.
The international version of RT is already available in the UK. Its new domestic incarnation, on BSkyB and Freeview, will feature five hours of bespoke programming from studios in London’s Millbank.
RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said: “It has always been RT’s goal to bring new perspectives to our viewers – to show them the side of the story they won’t see on the mainstream channels.
“Now, with a dedicated UK channel, we can serve the needs and interests of the British public by promoting debate and new ways of thinking about specifically British issues.”
The channel, which launched as Russia Today in 2005 before rebranding to RT four years later, has faced accusations of bias including complaints from members of its own staff who resigned over its stance on the Ukraine crisis.
RT’s London-based correspondent Sara Firth resigned in July this year over its coverage of the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, accusing it of the “most shockingly obvious misinformation”.
Four months earlier its Washington-based correspondent Liz Wahl resigned live on air, blaming the network’s “whitewashing” Moscow’s military intervention in Crimea.
The UK edition will feature RT presenters including British news anchor Bill Dod, US financial commentator Max Keiser and journalist and talkshow host Afshin Rattansi.
RT UK will broadcast around the clock with five hours of British programming a day “including live news, documentaries and chatshows”. The rest of the schedule will be made up with content from other RT channels.
RT spans three news channels in English, Spanish and Arabic, including Washington-based RT America. It claims to be available to more than 700 million viewers in more than 100 countries.
A key weapon in Vladimir Putin’s efforts to expand Russia’s soft power, RT is expected to receive about £250m from the Russian government next year, up nearly 30% on its funding in 2014.
On a visit to its studios last year the Russian president told staff that he expected it to be “unbiased” but also to “break the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on the global information streams”.
The funding boost came in spite federal budget cuts in Russia where increasingly severe restrictions have been put on foreign ownership of its media which is dominated by the state. Extra state funding was also given to Russia’s global news agency, Rossiya Segodnya.
RT, whose slogan is “question more”, positions itself as an alternative to western news channels such as the BBC and Time Warner-owned CNN.
It has several times fallen foul of UK media regulator Ofcom, which has a number of investigations into the news channel on-going. They include RT’s coverage of the shooting down of the Malaysia airliner MH17 after it broadcast graphic, unpixelated images of some of the victims, and further graphic scenes of murders by an Isis insurgent in Syria.
A news story about Ukrainian refugees, broadcast in July this year, and a documentary called The Truth Seeker are also being investigated by the regulator over a possible breach of broadcasting regulations.
Ofcom ruled that the news channel twice breached broadcasting regulations on accuracy and impartiality in 2012 with separate reports about the conflicts in Syria and Libya.
The regulator has faced calls to take further action against the channel over its unashamedly pro-Russian take on the conflict in Ukraine.
Firth, the London-based correspondent who resigned over its coverage of the shooting down of MH17, told the Guardian in July: “It got to the point where I couldn’t defend it any more. I have always fought against this argument that RT is an evil network but you wake up and think, that’s just wrong.”
A recently released RT documentary MH17: The Untold Story, posited the theory that it was not a Buk missile responsible for the downing of the airliner, killing all 298 people on board, but cannon fire from another plane.
Ongoing Ofcom investigations into RT
Date: 1 March 2014, 3 March 2014, 5 March 2014, 6 March 2014
Issue: Due impartiality in news coverage of Ukraine crisis
The Truthseeker: Genocide in Ukraine
Date: 13 July 2014
Issue: Due impartiality and material misleadingness in documentary about alleged policy of genocide by the Ukrainian government against the ethnic Russian population
The Truthseeker: Media ‘Staged’ Syria Chem Attack
Date: 23 March 2014
Issue: Programme contained accusations of fakery in news report about conflict in Syria
Date: 18 July 2014
Issue: Due impartiality in documentary about refugees from Ukraine fleeing to Russia
Date: 17 July 2014
Issue: Graphic images of aftermath of MH17 crash
Date: 20 August 2014
Issue: Graphic images of Isis gunman shooting a row of people
By John Plunkett, The Guardian.