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French regulator warns Russia’s RT over Syria report

June 28, 2018

France’s broadcasting regulator issued a warning Thursday to the French arm of Russian channel RT over a news report which dubbed over the voices of Syrian civilians with words they had not said.

France’s Audiovisual Council (CSA) accused the state-backed channel, which has already drawn the ire of President Emmanuel Macron, of “failures of honesty, rigour of information and diversity of points of view”.

The news report, aired on April 13, “contested the reality of chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian region of Eastern Ghouta”, the CSA said.

It noted that the testimony of a Syrian witness had been dubbed with a voice saying “words that bore no resemblance with what he had said”.

The CSA added that another witness had been dubbed with a voiceover saying that local residents had been ordered by militant group Jaysh al-Islam to simulate the effects of a chemical attack, “but the testimony did not mention any particular group”.

The CSA further said that the report demonstrated “an imbalance in analysis” of the situation in Syria and that “on a subject this sensitive, the different points of view should have been expressed”.

Xenia Fedorova, the president of the channel, however, admitted only to a “purely technical error, which has been corrected”.

“We maintain that RT France covers all topics, including the conflict in Syria in the most balanced way, giving a voice to all parties,” she said in a statement.

CSA chief Olivier Schrameck had said before the launch of RT France in late 2017 that the agency would be watching the channel constantly and would respond promptly to “anomalies”.

RT, considered by the United States to be a pro-Kremlin propaganda outlet, has already faced multiple warnings from Britain’s media regulator Ofcom over reports on Syria and Ukraine, where Russian forces are present.

During his presidential campaign, Macron accused RT as well as the Sputnik news service of being “propaganda organs”.

Draft French legislation designed to combat “fake news” includes new powers for the state to take foreign broadcasters off the air if they attempt to “destabilise” the country, a measure seemingly aimed at RT in particular.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.