Responses to the threat of disinformation in the EU: Implications of the closure of RT and Sputnik

The EU Council has recently taken the unprecedented step of banning the broadcasting activities of Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik to halt their attempts to spread “disinformation” about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In this paper, we analyse this development both in its own right and in the light of other recent disinformation campaigns and responses thereto, and we set out some key questions that it raises about communication rights. First, we review a few relevant past instances of closure or blocking of media or social networks. Second, we discuss whether these kinds of restrictions are compatible with the freedoms provided to media and journalists in the free world by constitutions and international declarations and conventions. Third, we critically examine the nature of RT and Sputnik, characterizing them as pseudomedia. We put this finding in the context of a study we conducted within the SN-Disorders project, in which we applied ethical and journalistic criteria to 50 websites and digital media outlets, some of which were involved in the disinformation campaigns surrounding Catalonia’s illegal referendum of 2017 and the Brexit referendum of 2016.