Ofcom has opened 15 new investigations in to the due impartiality of news programmes on the Russian state funded news channel Russia Today (RT).

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seen the ground war mirrored in an information war, involving social media and the broadcasts of state-controlled media in Russia, which have referred euphemistically to the country’s acts of aggression as a ‘special military operation’.

Ofcom says that it has observed a significant increase in the number of programmes on the RT service that warrant investigation under the Broadcasting Code, noting that matters such as the crisis in Ukraine, require licensees to comply with the special impartiality requirements in the Code.

These rules require broadcasters to take additional steps to preserve due impartiality – namely by including and giving due weight to a wide range of significant views.

The investigations relate to 15 editions of the hourly news programme broadcast on RT on 27 February 2022 which, Ofcom says, will be expedited, given the severity and urgency of the current crisis.

Ofcom’s Chief Executive Dame Melanie Dawes comments on the announcement:

‘Given the scale and gravity of the crisis in Ukraine, audiences expect to be able to trust and rely on duly impartial broadcast news.’

‘When reporting on an armed conflict, we recognise it can be difficult for broadcasters to verify information and events, but it is imperative that they make every effort to do so. They must also explain clearly to audiences where there is uncertainty or where events are disputed.’

‘Supporting a fair and free media is central to Ofcom’s work. We take this responsibility – and our duty to protect audiences and uphold trust in news – extremely seriously. Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of our approach and fundamental to our democracy.’

‘Given the serious on-going situation in Ukraine, we will be concluding our investigations into RT as a matter of urgency.’

RT has repeatedly found itself in hot water with Ofcom in respect of its impartiality obligations, including over Ukraine coverage.

In September 2015, it was found in breach of the impartiality rules in its coverage of the events in Ukraine and Syria, and Ofcom upheld a complaint by the BBC that allegations made by RT about a BBC Panorama film were ‘materially misleading’.

RT also previously stated that the Ukrainian government was deliberately bombing civilians, had murdered and tortured journalists, as well as crucifying babies, and said that Ukrainian army forces were responsible for ‘ethnic cleansing’.

This was found by Ofcom to have “little or no counterbalance or objectivity”.

Ofcom’s investigation takes place in circumstances where the European Union has proposed banning the channel across all its member states, although this approach does not appear to be supported by the UK government at present.