UK Regulator fines Baltic Media Alliance Limited £20,000
According to Ofcom, NTV Mir Baltic failed to remain duly impartial, resulting in serious and repeated breaches of the Broadcasting Code
On 17 February 2020, Ofcom published its sanctions decision imposed on Baltic Media Alliance Limited in relation to material broadcast on NTV Mir Baltic on 2 April 2018 during the news programme “Today” dealing with the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.
NTV Mir Baltic is a television channel broadcasting to the Russian-speaking community in Latvia, licensed by Ofcom. The licence for NTV Mir Baltic is held by Baltic Media Alliance Limited. On 2 April 2018, in its edition of ‘Today‘, the presenters reported on the Skripal’s case* in a way largely reflecting the views of the Russian Government and with various statements critical of the UK Government’s response.
The legal framework
Based on the Communications Act 2003, the Ofcom Broadcasting Code states that ‘News, in whatever form, must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality‘ (Section 5, Rule 5.1). In addition, ‘due impartiality must be preserved on matters of major political and industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy’ (Section 5, Rule 5.11). Moreover, ‘an appropriate wide range of significant views must be included and given due weight in each programme or in clearly linked and timely programmes‘ (Section 5, Rule 5.12).
Ofcom considered that the broadcast raised issues within the scope of the Rules 5.11 and 5.12. The poisoning of the Skripals was a matter of high public and political concern at the time the programme was broadcast and the breach had the potential to undermine public confidence in the due impartiality regime. In response to NTV Mir Baltic comments, Ofcom stated that:
- The content was not limited to official statements but included critical comments
- The broadcaster should not have assumed prior knowledge on the part of the audience of particular alternative views
- The broadcast should have included and given due weight to alternative viewpoints and reflected the UK Government’s position on the incident; substantial *British opinion” had been available at the time the programme was produced
- The broadcaster failed to provide any evidence of the alleged partiality of mainstream British media in general, or in relation to coverage of the Skripals’ poisoning in particular
- The fact that the target audience was outside of the UK has no impact as all international TV channels licensed and regulated by Ofcom must comply with the regulatory framework in the UK.
As a consequence, Ofcom considered that the edition of this news programme constituted a breach of the due impartiality rules. Taking in account the fact that this was the 6th time that such breach occurred since November 2014, this breach became a serious failure of compliance and the regulator fined Baltic Media Alliance Limited £20,000. Ofcom has also directed the Licensee to broadcast a statement of Ofcom’s findings on dates and in a form to be determined by Ofcom.