European lawmakers want Russian channels off satellites

The logo of Russia-backed international news broadcaster RT.
The logo of Russia-backed international news broadcaster RT. (Image via RT broadcast, Graphic by The Desk)

More than three dozen members of the European Parliament have written a letter to the top official at the European Union demanding the removal of Russian-backed television channels from two satellite systems.

The letter, which was signed by 39 European Union members, said two Russia-linked channels — RT and Sputnik — are being broadcast on satellites owned by SES and Eutelsat, even though the organizing body placed sanctions on Russian-owned media agencies over the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Despite the sanctions, the satellite companies Eutelsat and SES have continued providing services for the broadcasting of Russian war propaganda in the European Union, in Ukraine, in Russia and beyond, including in Africa,” the letter said.

The letter was authored by two European Union members: French lawmaker Nathalie Loiseau and Estonian delegate Andrus Ansip. In the letter, Loiseau and Ansip noted that while the satellite companies have failed to comply with sanctions against Russia, at least one company — Eutelsat — has worked with Russian officials to block American and European-backed channels from pay television systems in that country.

The situation means Russia is allowed to beam propaganda from RT and Sputnik throughout Europe and parts of North Africa with apparent impunity, while depriving Russian citizens of alternative media sources who are able to provide a fuller picture of the conflict in Ukraine, the lawmakers complained.

“Eutelsat has allowed two Russian pay-TV platforms, Trikolor and NTV-Plus, to stop broadcasting some Western TV channels in the Russian Federation, so that there is now almost no access to alternative sources of news or international channels in Russia,” Loiseau and Ansip wrote. “Eutelsat thus contributes to fuelling the Russian public support to Putin’s war and prevents them from having access to independent news sources.”

European lawmakers believe SES and Eutelsat are using European Union regulations that require platforms to provide services to broadcasters on the basis of neutrality. Eutelsat also apparently believes the European Union’s sanctions are without legal basis — a point that the lawmakers conceded to a degree.

“Russian audiovisual media services are subject to regulations of the Russian Federation which do not guarantee pluralistic media landscape. Unfortunately, the current legal framework and Council decisions do not provide adequate legal basis to prohibit all Russian channels broadcasting in the [European Union],” the letter said. “Therefore, we, as elected members of the European Parliament, call for a complete suspension of broadcasting of Russian TV channels and radio stations that spread hatred and disinformation in the context of the war in Ukraine to be included in a future package of European sanctions, which would give it unassailable legal force.”

Some media regulators and pay television systems have already taken it upon themselves to remove access to RT and Sputnik to the extent that they can. In March, officials with the British broadcast regulator Ofcom decided to revoke RT’s broadcast license over misinformation that was aired about the Ukraine conflict. The revocation also impacted Sputnik, effectively banning both channels from broadcasting anywhere in the United Kingdom.

Last month, officials in France ordered the American video platform Odysee to shut off a French-language feed of RT and Sputnik. In an e-mail, a spokesperson for Odysee said the website complied with the request after the company was told it faced “criminal consequences” for non-compliance, as well as a total block within the country.