BitChute website to continue hosting blocked RT channel

Exclusive: UK video website known for far-right content says it will show content while legally allowed

A British-based video website once called the “far right’s YouTube” has said it will continue to make content available from RT, despite the Kremlin-backed TV channel being removed or blocked by TV broadcasters and rival sites including YouTube.

BitChute, a UK-registered video sharing platform (VSP) with British directors that has a global following, said RT, formerly known as Russia Today would remain on its platform for as long as it was legally allowed to do so.

The company, which has hosted films of terror attacks, antisemitic videos watched by millions and racist killings posted by neo-Nazis, is regulated by the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom under a regime established for UK-registered online services ranging from Snapchat and TikTok to OnlyFans.

Ray Vahey, the chief executive of BitChute, which was incorporated at Companies House in the UK in 2017, said: “BitChute condemns all wars and acts of aggression, and our prayers go out to all those who have had their lives impacted and lost loved ones during the invasion of Ukraine.

“The UK is a country that believes in due process and freedom of expression, and we cannot beat authoritarianism by sacrificing principles. RT will remain on BitChute as long as we can legally host them.”

Ofcom has launched 27 investigations into allegations of bias against RT’s news coverage, which the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, has called “poisonous propaganda”, and it has the power to go as far as revoking RT’s licence to broadcast in the UK.

RT’s UK TV channel has been unavailable in the UK since last Wednesday after it was removed from Sky, Freeview and Freesat as part of wider EU sanctions against Russia.

Last week Google-owned YouTube, which is not regulated in the UK, moved to block channels related to RT and the Russian state news agency Sputnik across Europe owing to the war in Ukraine. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has restricted the pages of the two companies across Europe.

Under rules implemented two years ago, “UK-established VSPs” must protect users from harmful content, including to “protect the general public from criminal content and material likely to incite violence or hatred”.

BitChute is one of 20 companies on Ofcom’s list of VSPs it monitors, but unlike its role in broadcasting regulation, the watchdog does not adjudicate complaints about content on VSPs. In addition, the VSP regime does not cover legal disinformation or propaganda and there are no standards of accuracy, impartiality or offence that VSPs must meet.

“UK video platforms must take measures to protect their users from illegal content, but our role is not to assess individual online videos,” said an Ofcom spokesperson. “We have strict rules to ensure that TV channels are duly accurate and impartial.”

The VSP regulations, which are to be superseded by much more stringent rules under the online safety bill, focus on providing guidance only and give companies flexibility to effectively police their own operations.

Chris Elmore, the shadow media minister, said: “While the government goes at a glacial pace to regulate online spaces, lots of high-harm platforms operate with seeming impunity, spreading fake news.

“We need tough action to take down RT, Putin’s propaganda factory. While it is off air here due to action in Europe, ministers must press Ofcom to expedite their investigations into the channel and any platforms hosting their content. BitChute should not host RT’s lies and misinformation anywhere.”

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