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Germany has banned RT, apparently because it is considered to be not independent of the Russian government (Die Medienkommission sieht die Staatsferne nicht gewährleistet), which funds it directly. In response, Deutsche Welle was banned in Russia. Meanwhile, France24 and Voice of America, which are also state-funded, are allowed in Germany (among others, probably). Why is RT prohibited, while other state-funded foreign broadcasters such as France24 and Voice of America are permitted? Is the ban based on the contents of the RT broadcasts, or is there another critical difference as far as German law is concerned?

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    Please spell out acronyms.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 3 at 19:48
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    "apparently because it is considered to be not independent of the Russian government" That's not really what is said on the linked page. But the whole "why this, why not that" argument relies on it.
    – Trilarion
    Feb 3 at 20:20
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    @ohwilleke What acronyms? The only thing in this question which could be mistaken for an acronym is "RT", but it actually isn't one. The media franchise used to be called "Russia Today" once, but since 2009 the official name is simply "RT".
    – Philipp
    Feb 3 at 20:48
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    @gerrit Possibly because the question is short on context to understand what is being asked about.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 3 at 22:30
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    "apparently because it is considered to be not independent of the Russian government" No, because they are operating without a licence. I find it hard to believe you did any research before posting this - either that or you have some kind of agenda.
    – RedSonja
    Feb 4 at 10:26

4 Answers 4

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First a little clarification: It's not the original English-language RT which is banned in Germany. The English version of RT is actually available via satellite and in some regions of Germany via cable for quite a while. The fuss is about RT Deutschland (RT DE), the new German subsidy of RT operating from their offices in Berlin and producing a German program in Germany aimed specifically at the German audience.

Here is the official German press release by the regulatory body which banned RT DE (Kommission für Zulassung und Aufsicht der Medienanstalten, ZAK - commission for permission and monitoring of media institutions). They justify their decision based on a technicality.

TV stations in Germany require a license in order to operate. They first have to request a license, and that license needs to be granted. The ZAK did not grant such a license to RT DE because so far RT DE did not request a license with them. So RT DE is not allowed to broadcast in Germany.

RT DE did try to obtain a license to operate in Luxembourg. This failed (German article), because the government of Luxembourg considered themselves not responsible for licensing a TV station aiming primarily at the German market. They then applied for a license in Serbia (which succeeded) and claimed that this license would allow them to operate in all of Europe (Serbia is not an EU member, but a member of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television). The German regulatory body, however, did not accept that license and insisted on being asked for one themselves.

Why doesn't RT DE try to get a license in Germany through the official channels? Likely because they assume that they would not receive one. But an official statement of why exactly would require that they try. Until then, it would just be speculation.

I did not check, but I would assume that VOA or France24 either did request and receive the required license, or don't need them because they don't broadcast via the channels monitored by the ZAK.

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    Germany banned a German-language channel called RT DE (not just RT) operating under a Serbian license. Quite possibly Germany might have allowed a Serbian-language channel called RT SRB with a Serbian license to broadcast their program into Germany as well ...
    – o.m.
    Feb 3 at 16:37
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    @o.m. I edited the answer. The reason why the German regulatory body considers themselves responsible is because RT DE is a German-language TV channel operating from Germany.
    – Philipp
    Feb 3 at 16:38
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    Does the English language RT have a license in Germany? Or does it not need one for broadcasting in English?
    – gerrit
    Feb 3 at 21:47
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    @gerrit If I understand the European convention on transfrontier television broadcasting correctly, foreign TV stations need a license in the country where they are produced. So RT UK would be allowed to broadcast with an UK license in all the signatory states because they are situated in the UK. RT DE is not allowed to broadcast with a Serbian license because they are located in Germany and not in Serbia. Same would apply to France 24. Voice of America is a radio channel, so they are a completely different topic.
    – Philipp
    Feb 4 at 9:28
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    @JanDorniak Poland is not Germany. Different EU states have different criteria for media licensing. The transfrontier television commission would obligate Poland to allow the TVN group to operate with a Dutch license if they were actually situated in the Netherlands. But AFAIK they are not, so it's up to Polish national law to decide if they recognize that license or not. And apparently Polish laws are less strict than German laws in this regard... yet. Because obviously the PiS wants to get the TVN group either back into Polish ownership or off the air.
    – Philipp
    Feb 4 at 14:06
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There is a lengthy list of criteria in §1 Medienstaatsvertrag to describe which broadcasters need a german licence. It would take a lawyer to really paint an adequate picture, but I think the main reasons why France24 or VOA do not need a licence is because neither of them

  • offer a program mainly aimed at a german audience and
  • produce or control their program from an office in Germany.

RT DE does both, so the distinction is quite clear.

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There are the stated reasons and there is realpolitik. Ideally, all Western countries would ban RT in all its forms. RT is very popular in the West and excels at making readers and viewers question their own governments. The only reason we don't shut down RT is that it would lead to Russia shutting down our channels in Russia, and we deem that cost too high. But here, Germany was able to use a technicality to stop the channel and say: "hey, it's not us, it's the technicality!" The Russians haven't bought it, though, so it will be interesting to see if both governments decide to re-open the other's channels or if they leave them shut. To some extent, this is similar to the problem of Nord Stream 2. Germany has been under tremendous pressure in the West not to activate it. It has used a technicality to stop the pipeline from coming to life, despite the enormous cost on Western consumers.

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  • The only reason we don't shut down RT is that it would lead to Russia shutting down our channels in Russia — might there be another reason, that shutting down RT would be illegal?
    – gerrit
    Feb 7 at 9:08
  • Downvoted for: 1) 'very popular'? 2) 'Germany using' implies it was a government policy which would need pretty strong evidence because in general offices in Germany operate without the government interfering. 3) 'excels at making readers and viewers question their own governments' ... wow, the spin on this one is incredible.
    – Jan
    Feb 7 at 10:28
  • Gerrit, as indicated in my first statement, the conjecture was based on realpolitik. Legality would only be a short-term obstacle. It would not prevent the government from shutting down RT if politicians decided to proceed. It would be easy enough to pass a law targeting RT as most MPs would be happy to approve such move.
    – parker
    Feb 7 at 15:54
  • Jan, the popularity of RT can be researched from online sources. Given how new RT is, the performance in terms of popularity is rather astounding. As far as your second point, again the text is based on realpolitik. The stated technicalities would not prevent the government from acting if it decided to do so (see also my above comment). Finally, while I’m not entirely sure what you imply by the “spin on this one”, you can draw your conclusions regarding my statement from the frequency at which RT is mentioned in conversations with groups opposing the government, like the Yellow Vests.
    – parker
    Feb 7 at 16:13
  • Realpolitik is naive here. In a democracy, large parts of the government have a vested interest in getting voters to question the powers that be, thus removing Team A from power and putting team B into power. Moreover, if the populace believes in free speech, actions against it can be a lever against Team A. Democracies aren't monolithic systems.
    – prosfilaes
    Jun 21 at 19:22
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The other answers offered technical reasons, but they don't provide the fundamental reason, which is perhaps so obvious it's unnecessary to state. The fundamental reason is that the narrative put forward by RT DE would undermine the legitimacy of the German government (and more generally, the current Western European political system). France24 or VOA do not, and in fact reinforce the status quo.

Regulations are always complex (sometimes even contradictory) and thus difficult (or impossible) to fulfill. This means that regulators have significant discretionary leeway to find a "reverse loophole" that allows them to achieve a desired policy objective. Given the geopolitical tensions between Europe and Russia, it's unsurprising that German regulators would prefer to minimize the ability of the Russian government to promote its own message to domestic audiences. This is especially the case since the Russia generally prefers the outer parties in Western European politics, while administrative personnel are generally aligned with the mainstream parties.

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    This argument is significantly undermined by the existence of Nord Stream 2. Feb 5 at 22:59
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    @LawnmowerMan Nord Stream 2 delivers oil, not media narratives. As such, it is not a threat to the German government / political status quo. Governments are happy to import goods (especially ones in high demand) even from geopolitical rivals, but less enthusiastic about importing narratives. The Russian and Chinese governments want American computer chips, but are more wary of American media and cultural products. Feb 6 at 1:41
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    At the time of writing Nord Stream 2 is still not certified and blocked by political forces in EU and by USA so it does not deliver anything (yet?), so it does not undermine the argument but very much supports it.
    – AnyDev
    Feb 6 at 5:23
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    What is so complex, difficult and impossible about RT not getting a broadcasting license in Germany until RT requests one in Germany? The complexities of Europe are being greatly exaggerated by RT. Feb 6 at 8:25
  • @AnyDev the fact that Germany wants it proves that the "Germany is wary of Russia" narrative is oversold here. Germany built out their side of the infrastructure already and literally just need the pipeline to connect and turn on. Also, Germany's military assistance to Ukraine was helmets. The messaging was pretty obvious, and even risked a diplomatic dust-up by angering the PM. Feb 7 at 2:50

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