How Germany sidelines Serbia and international law by blocking RT DE
Berlin appears to be ready to go to great lengths in its crackdown on RT’s new 24-hour, German-language channel, including diminishing a major international treaty.
Tensions have been high since RT DE went on air from its studio in Moscow last week, much to the displeasure of certain political circles and mainstream media in Germany. Just hours after the launch, YouTube deleted the channel’s page, saying it was created in violation of earlier restrictions that had been placed on the outlet.
- What happened to RT DE?
Despite RT DE obtaining a license in Serbia, which – just like Germany – is a signatory to the European Convention of Transfrontier Television (ECTT), German media regulator MABB (Medienanstalt Berlin-Brandenburg) has launched a case against the broadcaster. The regulator claimed that RT DE is based in Germany and carries out broadcasts in the country without a proper license. It demanded that the outlet provide explanations by December 30.On Wednesday, European service Eutelsat announced that it had removed RT DE from its 9B satellite, which covers Central and Eastern Europe, and is especially popular among the Germans. The company said it acted in response to advice from MABB and the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services.
- How has the Serbian license been belittled?
While the regulator has been claiming that the Serbian broadcasting license wasn’t enough, German media went even further in its attempts to downplay the perfectly legal papers that allowed RT DE access to the German television audience. “The Serbian broadcasting license is apparently not worth the paper on which it is written,” Hendrik Zörner, who heads the German Federation of Journalists, argued. Major German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung said RT DE opted to launch its broadcast from Serbia only because the country has “pro-Russian political leadership,” with similar suggestions being made by the Bild tabloid and some other outlets.
- What have the politicians been saying?
Notably, neither new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz nor the country’s foreign ministry have officially commented on the events around RT DE, leaving it to MAAB to deal with the situation. But the issue was addressed by Thomas Hacker, the spokesperson for the Free Democratic Party, which won more than 11% of the ballot in this year’s parliamentary election. Hacker said it was obvious that “one who has a broadcasting license in Serbia doesn’t have one for the EU,” claiming that RT DE operated in Germany as a “pirate station.”
- How does RT DE broadcast?
RT has pointed out that – while the channel is in the German language – RT DE is broadcast from Moscow by the ANO TV-Novosti company. The majority of the channel’s staff of around 400 people also work in the Russian capital. The German-based RT DE Productions only creates content ordered by ANO TV-Novosti. The channel delivers its German-language programming via satellite, with a signal originating in Serbia. RT DE received a broadcasting license in the country on December 6, 2021. It’ll remain valid through 2029. RT previously applied for a broadcast license in Luxembourg as ‘RT auf Deutsch,’ but was denied in August 2021. Multiple German media outlets said that then-Chancellor Angela Merkel had influenced Luxembourg’s decision, but she officially denied those reports.
- How is broadcasting from Serbia legal?
While Serbia is not a member of the EU, both Belgrade and Berlin are among the 33 signatories of the ECTT. Germany ratified the treaty in 1991, while Serbia joined in 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.