NTV Mir Baltic adjudged "in breach" by UK broadcast regulator

The United Kingdom's broadcast regulator, Ofcom, said February 11 a Russian-language television channel broadcasting in Latvia was "in breach" of its rules on impartiality and fair reporting.

Ofcom received a complaint that a discussion that took place in NTV Mir Baltic's show Today about the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on 4 March 2018 was not duly impartial. The licence for NTV Mir Baltic is held by Baltic Media Alliance Limited (BMAL) in the UK, which makes it subject to UK broadcast regulations, even though its target audience is Russian-speaking Latvian residents.

While Ofcom said it "considered that it was legitimate for the Licensee to broadcast a news item which reported on the poisoning of the Skripals, and the ramifications of this incident on UK-Russian relations, from the perspective of a channel serving the Russian-speaking community in Latvia," it argued that official British government reaction to the incident should have been included in NTV Mir Baltic's report.

"BMAL said that if “any ‘substantial’ British opinion” about the list of questions sent by Russia to the OPCW had been available at the time the programme was produced, it would have been included. However, it said that “no such opinion was available at the time”. We disagreed with the Licensee’s argument. The Licensee itself acknowledged that the UK Government’s position on the responsibility for the poisoning of the Skripals was “by then … well-known”. Therefore, we considered that the Licensee could – and should – have reflected and given due weight to the UK Government’s position on the incident. It was an editorial decision for the broadcaster as to how to reflect this alternative viewpoint to ensure that due impartiality was preserved," Ofcom said in its lengthy consideration of the complaint.

"Ofcom’s view is that the Licensee failed to include and give due weight to an appropriately wide range of significant viewpoints on the relevant matter of major political controversy and relevant major matter relating to current public policy dealt with in the news item as required under Rules 5.11 and 5.12 and, taken overall, due impartiality was not preserved during the news item as required under Rule 5.1," the regulator said.

"Ofcom considers this breach of the due impartiality rules, in light of the Licensee’s previous breaches, to be a serious failure of compliance," the regulator said.

However, no immediate sanction was reported, with Ofcom instead saying only that it was "minded to consider the imposition of a statutory sanction" without giving any indication how serious such a sanction might be or when it might be announced.

It is the sixth time that NTV Mir Baltic and sister channel NTV Mir Lithuania have breached due impartiality rules since November 2014

The full findings can be read in Ofcom's regular bulletin of its decisions.

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