How RT wants German on TV

To analyse

Status: 01/18/2022 12:34 p.m

For years, the Russian foreign broadcaster RT has wanted to establish a television channel in Germany. He launched a program in December, but it remains a game of cat and mouse with authorities.

By Silvia Stöber,

On December 16, the Russian foreign broadcaster RT DE started its long-awaited German-language television program. It was only a few days before transmission from a satellite stopped again. The case has turned into a struggle between Russia and the authorities to establish another, especially powerful weapon in Germany in the “information war”, as the Russian side repeatedly calls it.

A television station was planned from the start, as RT-DE program director Alexander Korostelev told Arte in April 2021. Since it started in 2014, RT Deutsch has only had a website, video shows and social media – due to the lack of a broadcasting license. The State Media Treaty regulates the granting of such a license. According to §53 (3), apart from a few exceptions, an approval may not be granted to public and state bodies in Germany or abroad. This commandment of distance from the state results from the experiences of National Socialism.

A question of state distance

A key aspect is funding. According to RT DE, the parent organization TV Novosti is “financed from the public budget of the Russian Federation”. According to RT Deputy Editor-in-Chief Anna Belkina, in 2022 the RT DE TV channel will receive a budget of 2.8 billion rubles (about 32 million euros) from the state budget.

The federal government rates RT Deutsch and other media or subsidiaries as “key players in a complex network that disseminates its narratives on behalf of Russian state agencies, among other things with the aim of influencing the political opinion-forming process in Germany.” This is in response to a request from FDP members of the Bundestag in September 2020.

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution wrote in its 2020 annual report that Russian state media are a tool to steer public opinion in Germany through propaganda, disinformation and other attempts to influence Russia in favor of Russia. The 2019 report specifically mentions “the internet broadcaster RT Deutsch and the news agency Sputnik” in this context.

Statements by leading RT employees show that they do not see RT as a classic information medium. The managing director of RT DE Productions GmbH, Dinara Toktosunova, told the broadcaster Arte in April 2021: “I think the whole world is at war for information. If you ask where World War III is taking place, then in the information sphere. In In this context, of course, we are all in this war.” This reflects statements by RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, who has been talking about an information war and RT as a weapon since 2012.

On detours to the television program

It is understandable that RT tried in various steps to establish a television program in Germany. Perhaps the application for a nationwide broadcasting license was being prepared – Belkina did not answer a question about this. At least there were plans in 2019 to set up an advisory board for RT Deutsch for “renowned German personalities from the most important social groups”, as the then editor-in-chief Ivan Rodionov told the Berlin “Tagesspiegel”.

In 2021, RT decided on a different path: the parent organization TV Novosti initially tried to use EU regulations for Europe-wide broadcasting. On June 15, 2021, TV Novosti submitted an application in Luxembourg. However, the State Ministry there rejected the application with reference to the responsibility of the German authorities. In accordance with the EU directive on audiovisual media services, an agreement has been reached with the responsible authorities in Germany.

License in Serbia

RT DE then stuck to its announcement made at the beginning of 2021 that it would go on the air in December. As then became clear, this should be done within the framework of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television of the Council of Europe. In Serbia, TV Novosti received a license, with which RT DE eventually went on the air on 16 December via operator Eutelsat’s 9B and 16A satellites.

The next day, however, the Medienanstalt Berlin-Brandenburg (MABB), as an independent supervisory authority, initiated proceedings, because the required broadcasting license for nationwide broadcasting in Germany had neither been applied for nor granted. On December 22, Eutelsat ceased broadcasting on satellite 9B.

With reference to the Council of Europe Convention, RT protested and announced that it would exhaust all legal means. Belkina explains: “Our licensing solution is an optimal solution for an international German-language broadcaster, meeting all applicable legal and regulatory requirements of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ECTT), allowing RT DE to be received by viewers across Europe, including Germany can.” Additional licenses are not required.

Where is RT DE located?

The legal dispute now focuses on where RT DE is based and whether it is therefore subject to German jurisdiction. Apparently RT was planning this: Until the beginning of June, RT DE Productions GmbH with managing director Dinara Toktosunova was stated as responsible in the imprint of the website. This was changed shortly afterwards, and since then it has been TV Novosti, based in Moscow.

RT even went to court against “Bild”: The newspaper had written that RT DE Productions GmbH had submitted the application in Luxembourg on June 15 – instead of correctly naming TV Novosti.

Belkina explained at the request of “Editorial oversight and decision-making for broadcaster RT DE takes place in Moscow and content is commissioned for broadcast in German from a number of sources.” She added that RT is editorially and operationally independent of any government. in the Interview with the NDR magazine ZAPP program director Korostelev said at the Berlin Adlershof production site: “We determine here on site which topics are relevant.”

The supervisory authority in Berlin sees itself as responsible

The MABB supervisory authority, in turn, assumes “that RT DE Productions GmbH, based in Berlin, is responsible for the program in terms of media law”. This was announced by spokeswoman Melanie Wenzl on request With. The license that TV Novosti received in Serbia, according to RT DE, “according to MABB’s current assessment, does not represent a sufficient basis for the distribution of the program of RT DE Productions GmbH in Germany”.

RT DE Productions GmbH commented on a hearing letter from the MABB on December 30, 2021 and requested access to the files. The MABB granted this and an extension of the deadline for a statement until January 14th. As a result, RT DE Productions GmbH responded in good time, Wenzl added.

Since this is a nationwide issue, the community of media events (Commission for Admission and Supervision – ZAK) will examine it and probably make a decision at the beginning of February. Meanwhile, RT DE continues to broadcast on the Eutelsat 16A satellite. The program can be received via Smart TV, apps and online.

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