My name’s Polly and I work for RT (yes, so shoot me). I’m a reporter in the London bureau, and like many of my RT colleagues I woke up this morning not sure if I'd still have a job in the afternoon. We had heard the pre-statement leaks: diplomatic expulsions. No royals or dignitaries attending the World Cup. But no word as yet about our fate. Just existential uncertainty as to whether RT will be closed down by the British state. Ever since the Prime Minister pointed the finger of blame for the Skripal poisoning at the Kremlin, talk of her closing down RT has been rife.
On Monday, as part of her “robust” response to Moscow, Theresa May floated the idea of reviewing RT’s Ofcom license – which would take away our right to broadcast in the UK. After that Ofcom issued a statement saying that it would indeed be looking into RT’s license if (and only if) Russia was found to be to blame. It didn’t quite make sense: free speech, we kept being told, is a British value, and diversity of opinion is supposedly cherished. So why close down a television channel because the government didn’t like it?
What began as a horrific crime story has now morphed into a diplomatic row. A stand-off that now threatens our journalistic work that, despite the views of some British MPs, many UK viewers find valuable and informative. All this, made all the more ironic because RT has been one of the few channels in the UK basing its reportage on evidence and fact, rather than rumour and speculation over the past week.
On mainstream news channels, it was an altogether different story. In the two days before the police had announced any details from their investigation, every so-called Russia expert had been wheeled out to lay the blame for the poisoning on the Kremlin. Nuance and analysis gave way to rigid certainty and serious Russia-bashing. (My favourite: a Radio 2 interview featured an author on Russian affairs claiming the FSB might poison the England football team at the World Cup this summer.) It was funny seeing MPs who used happily to come in to our studios talking about the malevolence of Russian influence.
So this morning, the staff at RT London lined up looking up at the screens – all of which had Theresa Mays. Like any newsroom, we needed to know how this crisis is going to unfold. Someone was cutting soundbites, someone else writing bullet points and prepping to go live. But this time it was not just news. It was news about us too. Were we about to become the sacrificial lamb in this terrible plunge in relations?
Theresa May listed the diplomatic expulsions. Lavrov’s visit off the table, the house was unanimous in its condemnation of Russia. It was “highly likely” (shouldn’t you be sure?) that the attack was sanctioned or, through negligence, allowed to happen by Moscow. But she does not mention RT. More than an hour later, MPs from all sides were still at it. They’re moving on to the ambassador now, suggesting other ways the government could hit back at Russia, telling the Prime Minister there must be more that Britain can do. And when the cacophony of Russia-bashing almost hit a crescendo…an MP asks about the future of us.
The Prime Minister’s response? RT is a news channel and it’s not up to politicians to decide whether a channel should be allowed to broadcast here. It is a matter for the independent regulator. Quite. So why did the Prime Minister come up with the suggestion herself two days ago? Never mind. There was an audible sigh of relief in RT. Panic over, and jobs safe (for the moment). Now, what will we cover?