The impact of UK sanctions on Russian media – a justified response, or a step too far?

The current conflict in Ukraine has brought with it a variety of international issues, including economic problems, humanitarian crises, and an increase in global tension. The UK, along with several other superpowers, including the USA and members of the EU, have imposed severe sanctions on Russia – the most prominent of which include financial sanctions, with major Russian banks being excluded from the UK financial system and having their assets frozen.

However, the measures taken against the country don’t stop at purely fiscal sanctions – Russia Today, more commonly known as RT, is now no longer accessible in the UK, thanks to actions taken by the European Union. Despite no longer belonging to the EU, sanctions applied to satellite companies operating out of France and Luxembourg, which were providing the RT feed to Freeview, Sky, and Freesat.

UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries welcomed the news, stating that it was ‘the wrong thing to do to stream Russian propaganda into British homes’. The removal of the channel was criticised by RT deputy editor-in-chief Anna Belkina, who felt that the EU were delegitimising ‘independent regulators’, but the EU stood by their decision, claiming that RT had promoted ‘systematic information manipulation and disinformation by the Kremlin’ and would not be restored across Europe until the senseless aggression against Ukraine was over. 

Before the ban, Ofcom had been investigating RTs news coverage of the war in Ukraine, launching a staggering 15 investigations. The channel had come under fire for their description of the conflict as a ‘special military operation’, despite clear evidence of invasion. The possibility of RTs broadcasting license being permanently revoked has been discussed, with Nadine Dorries declaring her wish that the English-language channel is ‘never again able or have the platform to broadcast their propaganda into the UK’.

Despite a logical motivation for the broadcaster to remain off-air during the war, it is perhaps too strong of a statement to keep Russia Today banned indefinitely, with journalistic diversity and freedom of the press needing to be maintained. 

Further action taken within the UK involves the BBCs halting of content licensing with the Russian people, with Russians now no longer able to access popular BBC shows. Understandably, sanctions must be put in place to stop the Russian authorities – but should the Russian population, many of whom do not agree with the conflict, be punished? Does their access to programmes such as The Green Planet, or Dancing With The Stars, have an impact on the Russian government?

Many feel unsure about this decision, with the removal of further content from big brands such as Spotify and Netflix raising questions regarding the reasons for the sanctions. Nonetheless, it seems that these actions, despite being harsh, are necessary.

The wider discussion surrounding the consumption of Russian media has led to UK companies such as Comparethemarket pulling their advertisements featuring the animated, fictional Russian meerkat Aleksandr Orlov. The company stated that Orlov, and his bumbling sidekick Sergei, have ‘no association with Russia and the current situation’, but felt that pulling the advert was the right thing to do.

However, this is arguably performative – does the complete erasure of anything seen as remotely ‘Russian’ help anyone in the current situation? Or does it simply exacerbate xenophobia and cause unnecessary division and tension? 

Sanctions are an unavoidable consequence of Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine, and will hopefully have their desired impact as soon as possible. The removal of Russia Today is positive (for now), with the spread of misinformation needing to be limited, especially during a conflict that seems to be heavily recorded and explored online, and on social media. Nevertheless, the restrictions of media for the Russian people, and the removal of Russian references on home soil, seem slightly misjudged – it will certainly be a balancing act to avoid falling into the trap of xenophobia. 

Featured image – Дмитрий Трепольский on Pexels

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