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Blocking RT Accounts 'Direct Attack on Freedom of Speech' and 'Will Backfire'

© Sputnik / Mikhail Voskresenskiy / Go to the mediabankRussia Today
Russia Today - Sputnik International
International broadcaster RT have had their UK bank accounts blocked, editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan reported via Twitter earlier Monday, October 17. The NatWest Bank, part of the Royal Bank of Scotland group, announced that it was removing the broadcaster from its clients list, which has raised questions about media freedom in the UK.

"Our accounts in Britain have been blocked. All of them. 'Decision not to be discussed'. Hail to freedom of speech!" RT's editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, said on her Twitter account, in Russian.

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National Westminster Bank (NatWest), which is part of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), did not give an explanation to the broadcaster as to why their account had been blocked. The letter addressed to RT, simply said that the decision had been taken "after careful consideration." 

Journalist Roshan Salih, has also faced pressure from the UK government, when he worked for Iranian media organization Press TV. Mr. Salih said that seeing RT's situation was like deja vu, as it was only a few years prior that he and his colleagues had faced a similar situation.

"It's a political decision and its designed to impede on your ability to operate, it's a direct attack on freedom of speech as ultimately, if you attack the source of an organization's finances, you will eventually squeeze them and inhibit their ability to operate and to communicate effectively… that is what happened to press TV. Compared to how we operated in the UK before the sanctions were imposed and our bank accounts [were] shut down, we were much more of an effective voice, so it's all about silencing Russia Today basically," Mr. Salih told Sputnik.

Mr. Salih explained that it was a completely unnecessary move and that the UK government and media are constantly attacking Russia.

"RT, compared to the [UK] political propaganda machine, are just a small voice in the British media landscape and Press TV was a small voice. So, to attack it in this way is completely needless and it will backfire as it just portrays the British state going against its own values, such as freedom of speech…" Mr. Salih told Sputnik.

Roshan Salih explains that there are a number of state run TV news outlets around the world, from Al Jazeera, to France 24, TRT and of course Press TV, but the government's focus seems directed at specific countries.

"It seems the only state media that are allowed to operate in this country are the ones who the British government seems to agree with. So there won't be any attack on TRT, or France 24, and Al Jazeera. But the ones that are targeted are the ones that the British government has a problem with and that is Russia and Iran," Mr. Salih told Sputnik.

Asked if the blocking of RT's bank accounts had been a decision made by the bank or the state, Mr. Salih was adamant that it was the UK government who had enforced this decision.

"They [the UK government] are putting pressure on them [banks]. You ask them [the banks] for the reasons and they won't give the reasons. There is only one logical explanation and that is that the state is putting pressure on them," Mr. Salih said.

Is it worth for the broadcaster to take the bank to court?

"Our experience with Press TV is that it was a pointless exercise in terms of getting any results as the sanctions are tighter and even though the nuclear deal is signed the sanctions are still in place.

"But I think for the purposes of setting the record straight and public relations it's a process that RT need to go through. Also Russia is more powerful then Iran.

"Britain can ignore Iran, whereas Russia has many more levers and is a more powerful global player than Iran is, so perhaps Russia can enact those levers to put pressure back onto the British. Also from my point of view, as someone who works in the media, I wonder what implications this will have for the British state organizations that operate in Moscow, surely there will be some reciprocal move from Moscow to hinder their ability to operate and I think this is only fair," Mr. Salih told Sputnik.

So, if the government is making decisions on behalf of the banks, is there any really autonomy or independence?

"There is a low level conflict going on between Russia and the West and higher level conflict going on between Iran and the West and when those ultimate big decisions of state come into place, then the judiciary in those countries is no longer independent and neither is the banking sector, so ultimately politics rules everything," Mr. Salih told Sputnik.

According to a UK government source, the issue between NatWest and RT is a matter for the bank, the government has not changed the terms of sanctions in regards to Russia since 2015, and the source said that the decision was in connection to what is considered risk appetite. 

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