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Russia Warns French TV After France Calls Out Falsified RT Report

Russia's state communications regulator has told French broadcaster France 24 that it is in violation of a Russian law on foreign media ownership and could have its Russian license revoked.

Roskomnadzor's June 29 notification to France 24 TV came a day after France’s Conseil Superieur de l'Audiovisuel (CSA) warned the French outlet of Russia’s state-run broadcaster RT about its falsification of facts in a program about the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The French media regulator's warning said an April 13 broadcast by RT about the use of chemical weapons against civilians in eastern Ghouta had, among other factual distortions and misinformation, dubbed the voices of Syrian civilians saying words they had never said.

Roskomnadzor's warning said France 24 is violating a law that limits foreign ownership of media companies operating in Russia to 20 percent -- a law that forces all broadcasters in Russia to operate under the control of Russian legal entities.

"It was established that the editorial activity of the channel is under the control of a foreign legal entity, which is a violation law," Roskomnadzor said about France 24.

The Roskomnadzor statement said Russia's state media regulators have sent a letter to France 24 as a "reminder about the inadmissibility of violating laws of the Russian Federation" and informed the channel it could ask a court to strip France 24's legal entity, Media Communications, of its license to broadcast in Russia.

Media analysts say the move by Russian authorities against a French broadcaster appears to be retaliation for French authorities calling out Russian-state misinformation that was broadcast into France about chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

France's warning highlights the dilemma facing Western governments in dealing with Russian state-run media that broadcast disinformation aimed at advancing the Kremlin's geopolitical agenda.

Immediately after an April 7 attack in the Syrian town of Douma in eastern Ghouta, medics and rescuers said 40 people had died from exposure to chlorine and sarin gas.

Western governments blamed the chemical attack on the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of the Kremlin.

The attack provoked global outrage and, within days, triggered retaliatory missile strikes by the United States, Britain, and France against Assad's suspected chemical weapons sites.

But in an RT report headlined "Simulated Attacks," the French regulator said RT correspondents followed the official line of the Russian and Syrian governments by questioning whether the attack actually occurred and accusing a local rebel group of staging a fake chemical attack on civilians.

The French regulator said RT's report displayed "failures of honesty, rigor of information, and diversity of points of view."

"There was a marked imbalance in the analysis, which, on a topic as sensitive as this, did not lay out the different points of view," the French media regulator said.

The French regulator did not impose sanctions on RT, although it does have the authority to fine a broadcaster or suspend its license.

RT France acknowledged mistakes in the French translation of comments from a Syrian witness, but said it was a purely technical error which had been corrected.

"RT France covers all subjects, including the Syrian conflict, in a totally balanced manner, by giving all sides a chance to comment," said RT France president Xenia Fedorova.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been aggressive in seeking to curb Russian state media propaganda broadcasts outside Russia's borders.

The United States has required RT to register as a "foreign agent" within the United States but, by contrast and reflecting strong protections for press freedom in the U.S. Constitution, has not sought to regulate the content of its broadcasts.

Macron has described RT, formerly called Russia Today, as a tool for "influence-peddling."

He accuses the Kremlin-controlled broadcaster of spreading "propaganda" during his 2017 presidential campaign and banned RT reporters from his campaign headquarters.

During a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Versailles last year, Macron said the broadcaster and Russian press agency Sputnik had on several occasions spread fake news and deceitful propaganda.

Before the launch of RT France late last year, CSA chief Olivier Schrameck said that the agency would be watching the channel constantly and would respond promptly to what he called "anomalies."

RT has also faced multiple warnings from Britain's media regulator Ofcom over its reports on Syria as well as on the conflict between government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Draft French legislation might go even further to combat what the government considers "fake news," including giving French authorities new powers to take foreign broadcasters off the air if they attempt to "destabilize" the country.

The measure has been viewed as being aimed at RT in particular.

Russian authorities on June 29 also pressured the German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reports that the upper house of parliament said it would ask "the regulatory authorities" to examine how Deutsche Welle is complying with Russian legislation.

That follows a statement by Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on June 28 that Deutsche Welle had published "insulting" articles on social media.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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