UK Bank decided to block RT accounts

Employees of the state-owned English-language Russia Today (RT) television network are silhouetted against the backdrop as they wait for the arrival of Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the RT new studio complex  in Moscow, on June 11, 2013. AFP PHOTO/  POOL/ YURI KOCHETKOV / AFP PHOTO / POOL / YURI KOCHETKOV

State-funded Russian broadcaster RT complained on Monday that National Westminster Bank (NatWest) had withdrawn its banking services in Britain without explanation. According to a letter featured on the RT site, the bank will withdraw the card facility on November 14. ”All accounts will be closed on December 12,” the letter continues. The incident would not prevent RT from working in the United Kingdom.

NatWest wrote to the UK company that supplies services to RT, rather than the television network itself. The decision to block RT accounts was taken independently by the bank, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Tuesday.

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which owns NatWest, said in a statement: “These decisions are not taken lightly. We are reviewing the situation and are contacting the customer to discuss this further. The bank accounts remain open and are still operative.”

The editor-in-chief of RT, Margarita Simonyan, said: “We have no idea why it happened, because neither yesterday nor the day before yesterday, nor a month ago, nothing special happened to us, nobody threatened us in any way (…). Hypothetically, this may have something to do with new British and American sanctions against Russia, which may be announced soon. It may not. Our legal department is dealing with the issue now.”

The Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media, Dunja Mijatovic, is following the case: “I cannot comment on the relations between a bank and its clients, but if I understand it correctly the accounts of the television station at hand have not been frozen, it has been asked to turn to other banks with its business,” Mijatovic said.

“The channel has breached the UK’s broadcasting code on a number of occasions during the past decade, but these ethical violations cannot justify any kind of financial ban,” said Ricardo Gutiérrez, EFJ GS. “I don’t know if the closure of UK bank accounts linked to RT is motivated or not by political reasons. I don’t know if this could be considered as a kind of financial censorship. But I believe in the principle that all speech should be permitted provided it does not incite violence. Censorship is not the answer to opposing views. That’s why I think RT has as much right to operate in the UK as any other broadcaster.”

Picture credit: Yuri Kochetkov / AFP.

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