European media is reporting that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that Russia-backed media outlets RT and Sputnik would be banned in the EU. Both outlets have been repeatedly accused of spreading disinformation, especially in recent weeks during Russia’s military build-up on the Ukrainian border. According to a Politico report:
February 27, 2022 European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced Sunday that Kremlin-backed RT, formerly known as Russia Today, and Sputnik, would be banned in the EU. “We will ban the Kremlin’s media machine in the EU. The state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, and their subsidiaries, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war,” she said. “We are developing tools to ban their toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe,” von der Leyen added, without providing more details. Kremlin-backed media have been under increased pressure in Europe since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. Poland and Estonia regulators have in recent days banned Russian TV broadcasters while Western countries including the U.K. and France have renewed scrutiny on RT. The power to shut down broadcasters is in the hands of national regulators. In recent weeks, a massive information war unfolded both online and offline between Kremlin-backed news outlets and online trolls and media and actors both in Ukraine and across the West. According to French public radio France Inter, RT France’s coverage of Ukraine was obviously one-sided and biased toward the Russian government.
In 2017, the NYT characterized RT (formerly Russia Today) as follows:
Analysts are sharply divided about the influence of RT. Pointing to its minuscule ratings numbers, many caution against overstating its impact. Yet focusing on ratings may miss the point, says Peter Pomerantsev, who wrote a book three years ago that described Russia’s use of television for propaganda. “Ratings aren’t the main thing for them,” he said. “These are campaigns for financial, political and media influence.” RT and Sputnik propel those campaigns by helping create the fodder for thousands of fake news propagators and providing another outlet for hacked material that can serve Russian interests, said Ben Nimmo, who studies RT for the Atlantic Council. Whatever its impact, RT is unquestionably a case study in the complexity of modern propaganda. It is both a slick modern television network, dressed up with great visuals and stylish presenters, and a content farm that helps feed the European far right. Viewers find it difficult to discern exactly what is journalism and what is propaganda, what may be “fake news” and what is real but presented with a strong slant.
Sputnik is a state-owned Russian news agency established in 2014 and operating in over 30 languages. It has been frequently accused of spreading disinformation and is monitored by the strategic communication divisions of the EU and NATO.