Russian watchdog says may strip France 24 of broadcasting license: agencies

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MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s communications watchdog said it might strip the France 24 TV channel of its Russian operating license, a day after French authorities accused Russian broadcaster RT of airing distortions about Syria, Russian news agencies reported.

Moscow has previously used laws regulating media ownership to threaten foreign outlets with expulsion in a tit-for-tat response to measures taken by foreign governments against RT.

On Thursday, the French media regulator (CSA) issued a warning to RT’s French office, accusing it of misrepresenting facts in a news bulletin about Syria.

RT’s program had questioned whether chemical attacks in the eastern Syria region of Ghouta had really occurred and accused a local group of fabricating the attack and its effects on the local population.

Russian news agency RIA quoted a Russian broadcasting industry source as saying, “During an analysis of the licensing agreements in (watchdog) Roskomnadzor’s possession, it has been established that the editorial activity of (France 24) is under the control of a foreign legal entity.”

This would violate a Russian media law introduced in 2015 which restricts foreign ownership of media companies in Russia to 20 percent or less.

According to Interfax news agency, Roskomnadzor could ask a court to strip Media Communications, a Russian entity, of its license to broadcast France 24 in Russia.

RT chief Margarita Simonyan told RIA, “Unlike others, Russia can afford such a luxury as reciprocal measures.”

France’s CSA imposed no sanctions on RT over the Syria report, but the regulator has the authority to fine a broadcaster or suspend its license.

In statement, RT France acknowledged a mistake in the French translation of comments from a Syrian witness but said this was a purely technical error which had been corrected.

Reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Mark Heinrich