Accused of being instruments of “disinformation” by the Kremlin, the media Sputnik and RT (including its French-language version RT France) were banned from broadcasting in the EU from March 2, on television and on the internet, following to an agreement between the Twenty-Seven shortly after the start of the Russian offensive against Ukraine.
The RT France channel, owned by a Moscow-funded association, ANO-TV Novosti, challenged this measure before the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg, arguing that it violated freedom of expression contrary to European law. .
The EU tribunal will deliver its verdict in the coming months, which can be challenged on appeal.
The Council, the institution representing the member states, “does not have the right to silence a European media”, protested Friday during the hearing Emmanuel Piwnica, representative of RT France.
According to him, RT France, which employs 116 journalists, “is not a propaganda tool in the hands of Russia”, but benefits from “guarantees of independence” vis-à-vis Russia, which finances it and is ” free to determine its editorial line”.
For Europeans, on the other hand, the content broadcast by RT France after the invasion of Ukraine “aimed to justify Russia’s aggression”.
“The Russian offensive was presented as a defensive, preventive, limited action, in response to alleged Ukrainian provocations”, underlined Raphaël Meyer, representing the Council, to justify the legality and legitimacy of the restrictive measure in order to “protect public order”.
“This is undeniably a propagandist speech, not good faith information protected by freedom of expression,” he insisted.
“The channel has relayed the rhetoric of the Russian government in defiance of the facts, even presenting the Russian army as an army of liberation”, added Tanguy Stehelin, representative of France.
RT France is an “exemplary company which has never been sanctioned by the French regulator” since its arrival on the screens in 2017, replied Me Piwnica.
According to RT France, it would be up to Arcom (French Regulatory Authority for Audiovisual and Digital Communication, formerly CSA) to intervene in the event of a breach of the broadcasting rules – which Paris and Brussels contest.
On February 28, in a press release entitled “We never defend freedom by attacking journalists”, the National Union of Journalists (SNJ) described the European sanction against Sputnik and RT as an “act of censorship”.