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EU court upholds ban on Russian broadcaster RT France

The media outlet formerly known as Russia Today is fighting a broadcast ban by the European Council, which claimed the state-backed channel was spreading dangerous propaganda about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — The EU’s second-highest court dismissed a complaint by Kremlin-funded media outlet RT on Wednesday, finding a European Union broadcast ban doesn’t violate its freedom of expression. 

The channel's French-language unit RT France appealed the ban but the European General Court backed Brussels, finding that the news network's support for military aggression in Ukraine amounted to dangerous propaganda. 

“The restrictive measures at issue … were likely to protect public order and security in the Union and preserve the integrity of democratic debate within European society, international peace and security,” the Luxembourg-based court said in a ruling only available in French. It was the first time the court had issued an expedited ruling, a procedure that allows the European Court of Justice judicial system to fast-track time-sensitive cases related to security. 

RT France was cut off from social media and pulled from EU television packages after the European Council, an EU policy-making institution made up of national leaders, banned the network in March as part of a package of sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We will ban the Kremlin’s media machine in the EU. The state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, and their subsidiaries, 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. 

While many praised the move as an important measure to combat Moscow’s disinformation war, not everyone was happy.

“We are not fans of RT and Sputnik. It is state propaganda. But if government leaders can independently prohibit information, it affects the democratic constitutional state as a whole,” Thomas Bruning, the general sectary of the Dutch Association of Journalists, said in an interview with Dutch public broadcaster NOS. A group of media freedom organizations, including the Dutch Association of Journalists and the Press Freedom Fund, backed RT France in opposing the ban. 

RT France argued during a hearing in June that the ban was an attack on press freedom and that Brussels overstepped its powers.

“You cannot ban a media platform because they have a link with the other camp,” RT France’s lawyer Emmanuel Piwnica told the General Court’s Grand Chamber. The French-language broadcaster employed 116 journalists in France. 

But the 15-judge panel concluded that Brussels could do precisely that.

“The Council provided a body of sufficiently concrete, precise and consistent evidence showing that the applicant was placed under the permanent control, direct or indirect, of the leaders of the Russian Federation,” the judges wrote. 

RT France plans to appeal the decision to the EU’s highest court, the European Court of Justice

"The Court's confirmation of this general ban with an uncertain term unfortunately shows that the judicial power of the European Union cannot or does not want to oppose political power," the broadcaster’s president Xenia Fedorova said in a statement.

The Russian government in Moscow threatened retaliation after the ruling was released.

"We will take similar measures of pressure on Western media that operate in our country," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a call with reporters. He encouraged RT France to find loopholes to continue operating. 

It’s unclear how effective the ban has been in stopping fake news. A recent report released by the Disinformation Situation Center, a coalition of nonprofit organizations focused on combatting disinformation, found that RT’s content was still available across various platforms in the EU.  

Moscow’s relations with the rest of the world have worsened as the invasion has entered its sixth month. On Tuesday, Russia's space agency said it will withdraw from the International Space Station after 2024 while Gazprom, the Russian gas giant, has reduced natural gas flows to Europe. About 14,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far. 

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