LONDON (Reuters) - RT, a Kremlin-funded broadcaster lauded by President Vladimir Putin, launched a TV news channel in Britain on Thursday, promising to challenge “dominant power structures” and scrutinise the UK government.
Seeking to extend Russia’s soft power in a close U.S. ally, the channel said it would broadcast dedicated news and analysis about Britain examining the government’s domestic and foreign policy from a different perspective.
“We’ll aim to bring some truly informed debate on a tired UK television news scene dominated by corporate and vested interests,” Afshin Rattansi, one of the new channel’s presenters, said in a pre-launch statement.
“Slicing through the rampant corruption that stalks through public and private sector alike, RT UK will do what statutory regulators are supposed to do - hold power to account.”
Putin last year described RT, formerly known as Russia Today, as a project to break what he called the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on “global information streams”, saying it reflected his government’s thinking on events in Russia and abroad.
Its expansion in Britain comes at a time when the Kremlin is moving to clamp down on foreign-owned media companies in Russia, a drive critics say is aimed at reinforcing the dominance of media which in controls.
RT was hit by two recent high-profile resignations. In March one of its U.S. news anchors, Liz Wahl, resigned live on air, saying she could not be part of a network that “whitewashes the actions of Putin.” RT accused her of “a self-promotional stunt”.
In July, Sara Firth, an RT journalist based in Britain, quit the channel complaining about what she said was “disrespect for the facts”. RT said she and the channel appeared to have different definitions of the truth.
The channel will be available to 90 percent of households via Freeview, a digital terrestrial TV service, RT said.
It has a similar channel dedicated to the United States and its international English-language content was already available in Britain. The new British channel will broadcast tailor-made content for a UK audience, initially for five hours a day.
Its Twitter feed on Thursday promoted a news story saying sales of biohazard suits in Britain were “soaring” because of panic about Ebola. There have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in Britain.
Ofcom, Britain’s broadcast regulator, is investigating a number of complaints against RT’s international arm for purported bias in reporting the Ukraine crisis and for broadcasting graphic footage of an Islamic State militant committing murder.
Polly Boiko, an RT correspondent, said in the same pre-launch statement that she viewed the new channel’s launch as an opportunity to prove the channel’s critics wrong.
“So much is made of how RT is funded. It’s been cast as the Big Bad Wolf of the news media landscape,” she said. “I think many of us ... see the launch of RT UK as an opportunity to shake off the accusations levelled at the channel.”
Editing by Dominic Evans