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German Regulator Says Russian State Media Broadcasting Without A License

RT launched a German-language network in 2014.
RT launched a German-language network in 2014.

German regulators have launched proceedings against Russian state-controlled media RT for broadcasting in the country without a valid license.

RT DE, the German-language channel of broadcaster RT, suddenly began satellite broadcasts in Germany on December 16 using a questionable Serbian license, the MABB media regulator for Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg said on December 17.

Germany does not grant broadcasting licenses to foreign-owned state media, although RT DE is allowed to have a bureau in Berlin.

RT -- formerly Russia Today, which has been repeatedly criticized in the West as a source of Kremlin propaganda -- has been trying to expand its German-language television channel for some time, but lacks a license to broadcast in the country using terrestrial or satellite signals.

RT DE still has articles and an online streaming service on its website that are accessible in Germany.

In August, neighboring Luxembourg refused to grant a license for RT DE to broadcast in Germany because its operations are based in Berlin.

However, RT DE's parent organization, TV Novosti, received a license in Serbia after its failed attempt in Luxembourg. This only became known on December 16, when RT DE began broadcasting in Germany.

"For this program, a broadcast license was neither applied for nor granted by MABB," the regulator said in a statement to RFE/RL. It added that a formal procedure had been launched and RT DE now had until the end of the year to respond.

Such proceedings could potentially lead to the channel being banned or receiving a fine of up to 500,000 euros ($563,700).

RT DE responded on its website with an article titled European Licensing Law: A Refresher Course For Inexperienced Regulators. In the article, RT DE argues that it has been granted a license for cable and satellite transmissions in Serbia, which under the European Convention on Transfrontier Television convention allows it to broadcast in Germany.

However, MABB said that because RT DE Productions GmbH is based in Berlin it falls under German jurisdiction.

Tobias Schmid, a representative of the EU's Association of European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services, says that RT DE's legal argument is questionable.

"In our evaluation, the registered company is still the company based in Berlin and thus it is subject to German jurisdiction, so if the license in Germany is to be granted the application should also be made here," he told German television program ZAPP.

The license was granted by Serbia's Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM).

Olivera Zekic, the head of REM, told Serbian media on December 17 that the license was issued based on the European Convention on Transfrontier Television.

However, Judita Popovic, a member of REM's council, told RFE/RL that Serbia was enabling Russian state media to circumvent German regulations.

Popovic said that she was the only member of REM that voted against the decision to issue the license. She added that TV Novosti submitted a license request in which it is stated that the program would be broadcast from Russia in German.

"In this way Serbia is reduced to becoming a transmission signal for a wider area, via satellite," Popovic said, noting that the television programs were not intended for viewers in Serbia, but for German-speaking countries.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan Service and NDR
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