RT, Sputnik banned from global media conference for 'spreading disinformation'
LONDON -- Russia's RT and Sputnik news organisations have been barred from a global conference on media freedom in London because of their "active role in spreading disinformation", Britain's Foreign Office said Monday (July 8).
Some 60 ministers and 1,000 journalists and members of civil society are expected to attend the meeting Wednesday-Thursday (July 10-11) co-hosted with Canada.
"We have not accredited RT or Sputnik because of their active role in spreading disinformation," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.
"While it's not possible to accommodate all requests for accreditation, journalists from across the world's media are attending the conference, including from Russia."
The Russian embassy previously condemned the decision relating to RT as "direct politically motivated discrimination" and said it had complained to the Foreign Office.
In a statement July 5, it said RT had been told that the conference had no space for its journalists.
After the Foreign Office comments on Monday, RT said in a statement: "It takes a particular brand of hypocrisy to advocate for freedom of press while banning inconvenient voices and slandering alternative media."
The final guest list has yet to be published, but officials said the only countries not invited to the conference are North Korea, Syria and Venezuela.
In December, British media regulator Ofcom found RT had broken impartiality rules with several programmes broadcast after a nerve agent attack in Salisbury, England.
Moscow has denied claims by London that it approved the attack on Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in March 2018.
Combating fake news
Organisers of the London conference say it is intended to increase international discussion and co-operation on the issue of media freedom, including fake news.
Ahead of the conference, Britain announced £18 million ($22.4 million) to counter disinformation across eastern Europe and to strengthen independent media in the western Balkans.
It is part of a £100 million ($125 million), five-year commitment aimed at eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Russian media outlets such as Sputnik and RT have a track record of publishing fake news and disinformation across Central Asia and beyond.
According to a 2016 study by the RAND Corporation, RT and Sputnik are "more like a blend of infotainment and disinformation than fact-checked journalism, though their formats intentionally take the appearance of proper news programmes".
Russian media reports have even gone so far as to carry fake interviews with actors to paint a picture favourable to the Kremlin.
One of Russia's most brazen attempts at propaganda involved spreading false information regarding the chemical weapon attack in Syria in April 2018 to help protect the Kremlin-backed Syrian regime.
In Afghanistan, officials and media observers say Russian media outlets are spreading lies and distortions in an attempt to sow chaos in their country.
Russian 'news' agencies on shaky ground
Central Asian residents have caught on to the Kremlin's disinformation campaign and have lost trust in Russian media outlets such as Sputnik and RT.
The revelation in April 2018 that Facebook removed hundreds of Facebook and Instagram accounts connected to a Russian "troll factory" accused of attempting to influence public opinion around the world -- including in Central Asia -- has further shaken any trust that remained.
In January, Facebook removed more than 500 pages, groups and accounts originating in Russia for engaging in malign influence operations in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
This past March, Facebook removed another 2,600 pages, groups and accounts it said engaged in co-ordinated malign influence on Facebook and Instagram.
Almost 2,000 of these Facebook pages, groups and accounts were linked to Russia, according to Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook's cybersecurity policy, at the time.