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British MPs have called on the national regulator Ofcom to investigate provocative ads for the Kremlin-funded television network Russia Today (RT) on the London Tube.
Tom Watson, the shadow culture secretary, said that despite RT posters’ ironic tone, they come as an admission that the network is “the mouthpiece” of the Russian state, in a letter to Sharon White, head of Ofcom, quoted by The Times.
He added that he was especially concerned with one of the slogans, “Watch RT and find out who we are going to hack next,” was particularly alarming, given Russia’s alleged use of cyberware to influence 2016’s U.S. presidential election and, possibly, the Brexit referendum.
Other slogans on RT posters are “Missed the train? Lost a vote? Blame it on us,” “The CIA calls us a ‘propaganda machine’. Find out what we call the CIA” and “Beware! A propaganda bullhorn is advertised here.”
“Advertising campaigns are regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority,” an Ofcom representative told The Hollywood Reporter. “We have received Mr. Watson’s letter and we’ll respond shortly.”
A spokeswoman for the Advertising Standards Authority confirmed to THR that it also received a complaint filed by Watson. “The complaint has only just come in so we’re in the stage of processing it before assessing the complaint to establish whether there are grounds for an investigation,” she said.
“The general nature of the complaint is that the ad is offensive as it is likely to cause fear or distress by suggesting a foreign power can disrupt a democratic system,” she added. “Ofcom does not regulate out of door advertising,” Anna Belkina, RT’s spokeswoman, told THR. “The ad campaign, which was developed in-house by the RT team, was fully approved by all U.K. vendors. We are glad that so many in the U.K. are engaging with our advertising.”
The demand for a probe into the RT adverts comes at a time when the British government is funding a range of projects designed to combat “Cold War” style misinformation that Russia is allegedly using against the West.
They include a major research project by Britain’s Open University and the University of Manchester into the influence of RT.
The project, Reframing Russia, was launched in London last week.
Prof. Stephen Hutchings, who is leading the project, said cuts by the British foreign ministry, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to services such as the Russian-language section of the BBC World Service, a few years ago, had been unfortunate.
He told British Sunday newspaper The Observer that recent contracts appeared to be “in some ways an attempt to compensate and play ‘catch-up’ in light of the growing concern in the FCO and defense communities about Russia’s extensive ‘propaganda’ operation.
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