Russia's state-run broadcasting company had its U.K. bank accounts frozen

Russia’s Kremlin-backed news outlet just had its UK bank accounts frozen

The state-run Russian broadcasting company RT, formerly known as Russia Today, had its U.K. bank accounts frozen on Monday. The organization’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, took to Twitter to protest the surprising decision.

Though allegations swirled that the British government might’ve been involved in the bank’s decision, a source told The Guardian that it was solely down to the bank, NatWest and its ownership group, Royal Bank of Scotland. Critics in Russia remained insistent that there was a state connection, however. And RT’s press office, in a tweet, pointed out that the British government owns a large stake in RBS. 

Richard Norton-Taylor, an expert on security and defence, is doubtful of the claims: “RT is a curious target and hardly a priority one if the UK government really wanted to make sanctions against Russia bite more effectively. It will irritate Moscow and may invite tit-for-tat action by the Kremlin.’”

NatWest initially said that their decision was final, and there would be no appeal process, but later in the day the bank appeared to waver on the decision. ‘We are reviewing the situation and are contacting the customer to discuss this further,’ an RBS spokesman said. The spokesman pointed out that the freeze has not gone into effect yet and the accounts remained open.

RT has often been accused of acting as a propaganda tool for the Kremlin. In a country that has a history of silencing journalists, RT was set up in 2005 to improve the image of Russia abroad, or “provide unbiased information” as station puts it. Since its launch, RT has been sanctioned by the British broadcasting watchdog OFCOM for airing misleading programmes on Russia’s activities in Syria and Ukraine.

Critics of the station say that while RT covers much of world news with a negative slant, it fails to apply a similar approach to the many stories coming out of Russia. Padraig Reidy, a free speech advocate told VICE NEWS that “RT is not, by any stretch, a normal news organisation. It exists to push a pro-Putin line and often does this by deliberately creating confusion over “mainstream” media narratives, undermining basic facts in the guise of “questioning,” and granting airtime to conspiracy theorists.”  

Reidy added that the organization’s focus on western hypocrisies is key to the organization’s success. “The idea that all western democracies are dens of hypocrisy is crucial to this, so there’s currency for them in claiming that a country such as the UK acts in a way you would expect from, well, Russia.”

Several presenters have left RT amid claims of censorship. In 2014, presenter Liz Wahl dramatically quit live on air, saying that she could not work for a network funded by “Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin.”

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