UK

Russian TV broadcasts in UK a ‘disinformation campaign’, says Dorries | Keir Starmer

The UK culture secretary has written to Ofcom asking it to look at whether the Russian TV station RT should be allowed to broadcast “harmful disinformation” in the UK, Boris Johnson told the Commons.

Challenged by Keir Starmer at prime minister’s questions over a “limited sanctions response” to the arrival of Russian forces in Ukraine, Johnson said the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, had contacted the broadcasting watchdog about RT.

Dorries’ letter to the regulator said RT was “demonstrably part of Russia’s global disinformation campaign”, and that it appeared clear the channel would seek to continue this role amid events in Ukraine.

“I have concerns that broadcasters such as RT, whom Ofcom have found to have repeatedly breached the broadcasting code in the past, will also look to spread harmful disinformation about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine here in the UK,” Dorries wrote.

Johnson announced the review after being challenged by Starmer over RT. “We must also do more to defeat [Vladimir] Putin’s campaign of lies and disinformation,” Starmer said. “Russia Today is his personal propaganda tool. I can see no reason why it should be allowed to continue to broadcast in this country.”

Elsewhere in PMQs the Labour leader questioned Johnson over the extent of sanctions imposed on some Russian banks and a handful of individuals, announced on Tuesday. “The prime minister promised that in the event of an invasion, he would unleash a full package of sanctions. If not now, then when?” Starmer asked.

Johnson responded by saying the UK was “out in front” on sanctions, saying that further measures would be taken but that it was also necessary to impose them in union with allies.

Starmer called for the government’s delayed economic crime bill to be brought forward to help tackle complex networks of Russian money in the UK, and also demanded tougher rules on donations from shell companies.

“As it stands, the bill would allow unfettered donations from overseas to be made to UK political parties from shell companies and individuals with no connections to the UK,” Starmer said, calling for the government to back amendments to the bill, currently in the Lords, to tighten this up.

Johnson declined to do so, and instead mocked Starmer over the recent revelation that the Labour MP Barry Gardiner had received donations approaching £600,000 from a UK-based lawyer whom, it emerged, was working for the Chinese government.

“We have very tough laws, tough rules in this country to stop foreign donations,” Johnson said. “Before he starts chucking it around I would just remind him that the largest single corporate donation to the Labour party came from a member of the Chinese Communist party.”

Starmer replied by saying that Putin feared “openness and democracy”, and that the UK response should not be partisan. “He seeks division. We must stay united. He hopes for inaction, so we must take a stand. He believes that we are too corrupted to do the right thing, so we must prove him wrong, and I believe that we can.

He added: “So will the prime minister work across the house to ensure that this is the end of the era of oligarch impunity by saying that this house and this country will no longer be home for their loot?”

Johnson replied: “I don’t think that any government could conceivably be doing more to root out corrupt Russian money.”

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