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UK considers stripping RT’s broadcast license, Russia responds by threatening to expel all UK media from Russia

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Yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of former British spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. May also said the Russian ambassador had been given 24-hours to explain how a deadly nerve agent produced by Russia wound up in a UK suburb. Regardless of the answer, the question now becomes: What will the UK do in response to this state-sponsored assassination by Russia on British soil? One idea that was immediately floated was to end the broadcast license for the Kremlin-run propaganda network RT. From the Guardian:

RT, the Kremlin-controlled news channel, faces being forced off air in the UK if the poisoning of Sergei Skripal is found to be an “unlawful use of force” by Russia against Britain.

The broadcasting regulator Ofcom, which has the power to close a TV channel if it decides it is not a “fit and proper” holder of a licence in the UK, said it had written to RT warning that a Russian act against the UK would trigger a fast-track investigation to potentially revoke its licence.

“We have today written to ANO TV Novosti, holder of RT’s UK broadcast licences, which is financed from the budget of the Russian Federation,” Ofcom said. “This letter explained that, should the UK investigating authorities determine that there was an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the UK, we would consider this relevant to our ongoing duty to be satisfied that RT is fit and proper.”

That suggestion was immediately met with a counter-threat by the Russian foreign ministry, which said it would expel all UK journalists from Russia if RT loses its license. But as the Independent points out, that wasn’t even the strongest threat issued by Russia in that particular press conference:

Russia says that “not a single British media outlet” will be able to work in the country if the UK shuts down Russia Today.

Its foreign ministry made the threat amid suggestions from British regulator Ofcom that it could not renew the license of the state-funded TV channel…

The warning came in a press conference in which a foreign ministry spokeswoman responded to recent tensions by saying “one should not threaten a nuclear power”, according to state news organisation RIA.

“Not a single British media outlet will work in our country if they shut down Russia Today (RT),” the news agency cited Maria Zakharova as saying on state television.

Maybe Russia would go through with this but what is the alternative here for Prime Minister Theresa May? If the price of keeping UK journalists in Russia is giving Russia a free hand in state-sponsored assassinations on British soil, the answer should be obvious: No thanks. May has to refuse to be cowed by Russian threats. If she doesn’t do so now, when Russia is clearly out of line, she can count on many more threats to follow. Frankly, punishing RT seems like relatively weak sauce. Hopefully, the UK response to this provocation will be much broader than that.

But the Kremlin has been very touchy about foreign rebukes to its propaganda channel, RT. Recall that the U.S. State Department forced RT to register as a foreign agent last year. At the time, the Kremlin warned that any action taken against RT would retaliate against U.S. based networks like CNN. RT did eventually comply with the demand and shortly afterward lost its press credentials to work in the U.S. Capitol. And as promised, Russia followed through on its threats and created new laws allowing foreign media to be listed as “foreign agents.”

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