In response to the EU’s decision to ban the broadcasting of Russian state media RT and Sputnik, the International Press Institute (IPI) has issued the following statement:
There is no doubt about the need to address the spread of disinformation and propaganda, especially in light of Russia’s appalling invasion of Ukraine. It is also clear why RT and Sputnik are at the centre of this debate. However, the decision to ban any media outlet is a serious one and must always be subject to a high degree of scrutiny.
Broadcast media – in contrast to other forms of media – may be legitimately subject to licensing and regulation. Such regulation, in addition to being subject to judicial review, should be carried out by independent regulators on the basis of a clear and transparent set of rules that reflect international standards in the area of broadcasting and freedom of expression, which include the possibility to impose restrictions where proportionate and necessary in a democratic society.
In the EU, in general, this regulatory competency lies with the member states. While the EU’s decision to restrict access to RT and Sputnik within the European media market through sanction measures adopted by the European Council is understandable and well-intentioned, this does not change the fundamental principle that decisions on whether to ban media should be taken by independent regulators.
Moreover, IPI is concerned that these bans may be used to justify reciprocal measures by Russia to restrict foreign media operating within the country. As Russian regulators move to silence what remains of the country’s domestic independent media, the expulsion of the BBC and other major European broadcasters would starve Russian citizens of vital sources of face-based news at a crucial time. These broadcasters enjoy far greater viewership and influence in Russia than RT and Sputnik do within Europe.
Finally, even during times of information warfare, it remains true that the best way to counter state-sponsored disinformation is not through broadcast bans or censorship, but instead through fostering a professional and pluralistic media landscape with thriving, independent journalism which can factcheck falsehoods and insulate citizens from propaganda, in addition to programs for teaching media literacy. Our focus should therefore be on investing in sustainable and long-term defence mechanisms against all forms of propaganda.