European and Russian state media clash in press freedom court
The European Council has banned Kremlin-funded news outlet RT, formerly known as Russia Today, as part of a sanctions package over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
LUXEMBOURG (CN) – Russian state media RT France argued in the European Union’s second-highest court on Friday that a bloc-wide ban on its content violates press freedom, while Brussels and a group of EU states said the organization was the Kremlin. Propaganda.
The European Tribunal heard arguments from the French branch of RT, formerly known as Russia Today, challenging a broadcast ban in March by the European Council, which claimed the outlet was broadcasting dangerous propaganda about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“RT France says they practice pluralism, but they are not deceiving anyone,” said Tanguy Stehelin, a lawyer representing the French government.
The ban was implemented by the European Council, an EU political institution made up of national leaders, but the decision is being defended in court by the European Commission, the bloc’s representative for foreign affairs and EU policy. security and six individual countries.
The Russian state-controlled news network found itself cut off from social media and removed from EU TV packages after sanctions were put in place.
“We are going to ban the Kremlin media machine in the EU. State corporations Russia Today and Sputnik, and their affiliates, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at the time. Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Twitter have blocked RT accounts while Apple, Microsoft and Google have removed RT from app stores.
The French-speaking unit, RT France, which employs 116 journalists in France, appealed the ban. The Luxembourg Court rejected his request for emergency measures, which would have granted the outlet a temporary reprieve in March. His lawyers argued that the ban was an attack on freedom of the press and that Brussels had exceeded its powers.
“We cannot ban a media platform because it has a link with the other camp,” RT France lawyer Emmanuel Piwnica pleaded on Friday.
But the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm based in Brussels, argued it could do just that.
“This is about protecting European public opinion from the repercussions of Russian military aggression in Ukraine, which is taking place on the EU’s borders,” said Daniel Calleja Cresp, Director General for Environment at the European Commission. .
Calleja Cresp cited the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which specifically prohibits the use of propaganda to promote war. He argued that the EU has an obligation to ban RT under international law.
This is not the first time that RT has been criticized in the EU. Germany blocked several German-language RT channels in 2021, saying the company had no rights to broadcast in the country.
But not everyone is happy with the sanctions. A group of media freedom organisations, including the Dutch Association of Journalists and the Press Freedom Fund, opposed the ban.
“We are not fans of RT and Sputnik. This is state propaganda. But if heads of government can ban news independently, it affects the democratic constitutional state as a whole,” Thomas Bruning, the general sectarian of the Dutch Association of Journalists, told the broadcaster last month. Dutch television NOS.
Brussels stressed that RT France was a propaganda outlet and that the case had nothing to do with the media.
“Freedom of the press is essential in a democratic society but RT France is not able to benefit from it because it is not independent of the Russian state”, declared Frank Hoffmeister, pleading for the high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy. .
Although the hearing was held fairly quickly after the sanctions were put in place, the verdict is expected to take months.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day’s best stories straight to your inbox Monday through Friday.