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American website pulls French version of RT amid European ban

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)

An online video platform based in the United States has bowed to a request from officials in France to stop streaming a localized version of the Russia-backed RT news channel.

The move came several months after the European Union (E.U.) imposed sanctions on Russia that included a ban on the RT news channel in member states, amid criticism that RT and its companion network Sputnik have broadcast propaganda and misinformation about Russia’s interstate conflict with Ukraine.

The channels are not legally allowed to be distributed on any pay television systems or online platforms in E.U. countries, but RT and Sputnik have found ways to circumvent these bans by offering live streams and on-demand videos through online platforms that are hosted in non-E.U. countries.

Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged the difficulties in completely banning RT and Sputnik from the country, and affirmed that French citizens still had ways to access the networks despite the government’s best efforts.

“We’re using the informational weapon, and Russia was doing it even before by spreading propaganda on social networks, through propaganda channels that we have cut off on our soil but still continue to find channels to broadcast,” Macron said in an interview broadcast by France 2.

One such platform that has continued to provide hosting and support for RT is Odysee, an American-based video platform that is accessible around the world. This week, officials in France sent a letter to Odysee requesting that the company drop French-language variants of RT and Sputnik. One day later, Odysee dropped both video feeds. (It continues to host English-language feeds for both channels.)

The move marked an unusual step for an American-based video platform, which does not have to acquiesce to any request from a country beyond the United States. It was not clear why Odysee agreed to the request, or if it has been asked to make similar moves with respect to other RT and Sputnik content that continues to exist on their website.

In a statement, a French official in charge of the country’s telecommunications policy said the banishment of RT and Sputnik’s French-language programming from Odysee was a critical step in France’s ongoing fight against government-backed disinformation.

“In the fight against propaganda and disinformation, we will not give in,” Jean-Noël Barrot said in a social media post on Thursday.

Nadège Abderrazak, a journalist for RT France, replied to Barrot’s statement, saying the network would not waver in its efforts to reach French viewers.

“In the fight against censorship and information, we will not give in,” Abderrazak tweeted.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).