Judicial review of legality of license revocation of state-backed Russian news channel RT sought in Belfast High Court

Russian news channel RT’s license to broadcast in the UK has been wrongfully revoked due to political pressure, the High Court in Belfast has heard.

Ousel of an activist from the Irish Socialist Republican Party (IRSP) also claimed that the action taken by media regulator Ofcom violated his right to freedom of expression and information.

Sean Carlin is asking for a judicial review of the legality of the watchdog’s decision amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.

In March this year, Ofcom announced that the UK broadcasting license was revoked from RT, formerly known as Russia Today, with immediate effect.

The move came amid an investigation into the channel’s coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ofcom said it took into account that RT was funded by the Russian state, which had recently invaded a neighboring sovereign country.

New laws in Russia that effectively criminalize any independent journalism that deviates from its own account of events in Ukraine were also cited.

Based on these constraints, the regulator declared that it appeared impossible for RT to comply with the impartiality rules of its Audiovisual Code.

But lawyers representing West Belfast IRSP member Mr Carlin claimed there was an improper motive behind the dismissal.

Ronan Lavery KC told the court: “We say there was political pressure.

“The government asked for this, there was a reaction, a content complaint and at some point it turned into a process of fitness (to broadcast), of revocation.”

The lawyer argued that there should be a “plurality” of broadcasting options to guarantee the freedom of expression protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“We have the right to consult different sources of information and form our own opinions,” he said.

“This is what distinguishes countries from totalitarian regimes.”

Brian Kennelly KC, responding for Ofcom, pointed out that the content of some shows had raised concerns about RT’s ability to maintain its impartiality.

He pointed out that under laws passed in Russia earlier this year, prison terms of up to 15 years can be imposed for spreading “false” information about the military operation in Ukraine.

“Our concern is that it is not possible to be satisfied that a news broadcaster based in Russia and subject to such a law is fit and proper,” the lawyer said.

Reserving judgment, Judge Scoffield said he wanted more time to study the written submissions.

Outside court, Mr Carlin’s solicitor, Michael Brentnall, said: ‘Our client challenges Ofcom’s dismissal decision in relation to the RT channel on the grounds that it acted contrary to the communications.

“Furthermore, this challenge is underpinned by the fact that he has the right to receive information as part of his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention.”