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22 Dec, 2021 14:37

Germany’s crackdown on RT DE & how it might backfire

Germany’s crackdown on RT DE & how it might backfire

Germany has forced a major European satellite operator to drop RT DE as part of Berlin’s ongoing crackdown on the Russian publicly-funded broadcaster's new 24-hour, German-language channel.

European service Eutelsat said on Wednesday that it had removed RT DE from its 9B satellite, which covers Central and Eastern Europe, and is especially popular among Germans.

According to the company, it acted in response to advice from Berlin and the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA), who insisted that RT DE’s broadcast is based in Germany and carried out without a proper license.

RT has rejected those claims as “unsubstantiated and factually flawed,” expressing confidence that the court will swiftly restore its German-language channel’s place on Eutelsat’s platform.

How might Russia respond?

The attacks on RT DE are part of a coordinated anti-Moscow campaign by the German authorities, which won’t be left unanswered, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned in an exclusive interview with RT on Wednesday.

Such unfair steps only increase the “temptation” to impose mirror restrictions on German media outlets that operate in Russia, he said.

“Until recently, the determination was prevailing not to go down the same path of strangling the press, strangling the media, which our Western partners took. But just like with Russian national security, there is a limit to patience,” the minister pointed out.

Where is RT DE based?

While some RT DE content is created in a newsroom in Berlin, the actual headquarters of the channel is in Moscow, where all editorial decisions are made. The Berlin newsroom produces some of the shows, but it does not broadcast – so it cannot be sued as a broadcaster.

How does RT DE broadcast?

The channel delivers its German-language programming via satellite, with a signal originating in Serbia. RT DE received a broadcasting license in Serbia on December 6, 2021, which is valid through 2029.

RT previously applied for a broadcast license in Luxembourg as ‘RT auf Deutsch’, but was denied in August 2021. While multiple German media outlets reported that then-Chancellor Angela Merkel had influenced Luxembourg’s decision, she officially denied this.

How is broadcasting from Serbia legal?

While Serbia is not a member of the EU, both Belgrade and Berlin are signatories of the European Convention of Transfrontier Television (ECTT). Germany ratified the treaty in 1991, while Serbia has been party to it since 2010.

Article 4 of the ECTT says all parties “shall guarantee freedom of reception and shall not restrict the retransmission on their territories of program services which comply with the terms of this Convention.”

Why not apply for a German license?

German media law prohibits political parties or judicial persons governed by public law from operating broadcasting services – except for churches and universities. This ban also applies to companies in which a state is a majority shareholder.

As RT is a public nonprofit that Russia considers an “organization of strategic importance,” Germany considers it state-owned TV, and has therefore ruled out giving RT DE a license. This is why RT filed first in Luxembourg, then in Serbia.

German regulator’s lawsuit

Last Friday, German media regulator MABB (Medienanstalt Berlin-Brandenburg) pressed charges against RT DE, arguing that its broadcaster should be subject to its authority.

The regulator insists that RT’s German-language channel must obtain a German license to broadcast the live on its de.rt.com website. It has given RT until December 30 to explain why it’s operating in Germany without proper paperwork.

RT was notified about the MABB lawsuit just hours after ERGA chair Tobias Schmid – a German national and former executive at the local RTL broadcaster – called RT DE a “nuisance” that needs to be “taken care of.”

Ongoing pressure on RT

The removal from Eutelsat is just the latest in a series of moves by German authorities to restrict RT’s German-language programming.

Earlier this year, Germany’s Commerzbank suddenly closed the account of the production company affiliated with RT Germany without explanation, and multiple other banks ignored inquiries about opening an account.

In September, YouTube deleted RT DE’s account – as well as a secondary page – citing alleged violations of ‘community guidelines’ in the coverage of German protests against Covid-19 restrictions. The ban followed a series of negative and even outright defamatory articles about RT in German media.

Last week, the Google-owned platform deleted the RT auf Sendung (RT On Air) channel, labelling it an attempt to circumvent the earlier ban. German regulators are now pointing to these bans to challenge RT DE’s legitimacy.