Ofcom collars RT over Ukraine documentary based on eyewitness testimonies

© Evgeny Biyatov
UK telecom watchdog Ofcom has ruled that three episodes of RT programming were in breach of its code of conduct. One was never aired in the UK and another one drew no complaints at all.

The rulings published in the watchdog’s latest bulletin concern two episodes of a now-defunct commentary show The TruthSeeker and a documentary based on eyewitness accounts given to RT by people who suffered during hostilities in eastern Ukraine.

The documentary called Ukraine’s Refugees didn’t generate a single complaint in the UK, but was investigated by Ofcom on its own initiative. The watchdog said it violated its code’s impartiality clause because it didn’t sufficiently represent the position of the Ukrainian government. The documentary unambiguously stated in the film that Kiev “denied all charges of crimes against civilians,” allegations of which were voiced by witnesses interviewed for the film.

“We are shocked and disappointed by Ofcom's decision. The film about refugees was based entirely on first-hand accounts of the war victims,” said RT’s editor in chief Margarita Simonyan.

READ MORE: Ofcom accuse BBC of airing ‘propaganda films’

The other judgments pertained to two episodes of The TruthSeeker, a commentary program taken off air in July 2014. One episode was dedicated to the Ukrainian civil war and resulting humanitarian crisis. It was never aired in the UK. Again, Ofcom found it breached the impartiality clause, because the statements from Kiev authorities denying accusations of crimes against civilians were not a big enough counterbalance, according to the watchdog.

“We are being criticized because the show used statements made by Ukrainian politicians — i.e. their own words — because those statements make them look bad. That we, essentially, had picked the wrong quotes. This is a rather peculiar approach to journalism,” commented Simonyan.

Another episode of The TruthSeeker probed by Ofcom referred to an independent but unofficial investigation into a BBC report about an incendiary weapons attack in Syria. The investigation said the BBC dropped a reference to “napalm” from an interview with a Syrian doctor, leaving only her speculation that a “chemical weapon” had been used. In Ofcom’s view, RT had exaggerated the significance of the inquiry and thus misled the audience.

READ MORE: RT cleared over coverage of MH17 crash reporting after complaints to Ofcom

Ofcom also closed their investigation into an episode of RT’s interview show SophieCo on immigrant detention centers in the UK and a news broadcast reporting about victims of the Islamic State terrorist group. It found they hadn't breached the watchdog’s code. The rulings mean that all Ofcom investigations into RT programming have now been resolved.