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BBC Studios, Netflix, YouTube take action on Russia as Ukraine attack intensifies

A host of television’s biggest companies have moved to restrict or ban altogether their trade with Russia as the industry steps up its actions in solidarity with Ukraine.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered troops into neighbouring Ukraine and a full-scale invasion and aerial bombardment of its cities is now heading into a second week.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was originally a TV producer and comedy star who was propelled into the job after starring in local original Servant of the People, in which a fictitious TV star rose to be president of Ukraine. He remains in the capital, Kyiv, leading the resistance.

Scandinavian distributor Eccho Rights, which holds the rights to three seasons of Servant of The People, has licensed the show to Channel 4 in the UK, MBC in the Middle East, ANT 1 in Greece and PRO TV in Romania in the past week.

The company is pledging a donation of €50,000 (US$55,380) to the Ukrainian Red Cross Society and has removed all Russian-owned and -produced series from its catalogue with immediate effect.

Economic sanctions against Russia have been ratcheted up by the West, asylum has been offered to Ukrainian refugees across Europe and the continent’s airspace has been closed to all Russian-registered aircraft.

On Tuesday, the content business ramped up its own restrictions on Russian companies, with Brunico and Natpe in North America and C21 in the UK all moving to ban Russian delegates from events that include Content London, RealScreen, Kidscreen, Banff World Media Festival and Natpe Budapest.

In the week of its annual showcase, BBC Studios said: “In common with other media organisations we have been monitoring events closely. The BBC executive team were meeting today and they have decided to stop all content licensing to Russian clients.”

The commercial arm of the UK pubcaster has demanded its programmes currently running in Russia be taken off air, which includes the local version of Strictly Come Dancing (Tantsy So Zvezdami) on state broadcaster Russia 1 and David Attenborough’s The Green Planet on Friday!.

The UK-based distribution arms of All3Media, ITV Studios and Fremantle have all taken a similar stance and suspended trade with Russia, as first reported by Deadline. UK producers’ association Pact called on its members in the indie community to follow suit.

A statement read: “Pact expresses our deepest sympathy for the people of Ukraine, and in particular our colleagues working in Ukraine’s film and television sector. Along with other industry organisations, Pact calls for a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine and for a resolution of conflict by diplomatic means respecting the rule of law and the rights of the Ukrainian people.

“International sanctions are being implemented against the Russian government. Whilst Pact sympathises with Russian creatives who do not have the same freedoms and safeguards that we enjoy in the United Kingdom, Pact has removed all Russian production and business information from its website and calls on members to suspend all co-operation and trade with Russia for the time being.”

Banijay owns Russian producer WeiT Media but has not said whether the war in Ukraine will impact its business or operations. A representative for Banijay said they were not commenting on the situation.

While Netflix has remained silent on the status of its Russian originals, including its first Russian series Anna K, announced last May, the streamer has confirmed that it will not carry Russian state television channels on its service.

In Russia, platforms with more than 100,000 viewers are required to carry 20 free-to-air channels including Channel One, Spa and NTV. That rule had been slated to come into effect March 1 for Netflix, but the streamer has declined to comply.

“Given the current situation, we have no plans to add these channels to our service,” a Netflix representative told C21.

US studios with upcoming theatrical releases in Russia, including Disney, Warner Bros, Sony and Paramount, have also paused their movie releases in the country.

Disney, which was set to release multiple films in Russia in the coming months, including Pixar movie Turning Red, said it will “make future business decisions based on the evolving situation.”

Canada-headquartered Blue Ant Media told C21 it is pulling its Love Nature channel in Russia, where the company forged a partnership with pay TV platform Tricolor in 2020.

“We are appalled at the Russian atrocity in Ukraine and we have suspended Blue Ant Media’s business dealings in Russia, including pulling our Love Nature offering from the Russian platforms that carry it, effectively immediately,” said Michael MacMillan, CEO of Blue Ant.

Media organisations continue to work to remove Russian state-backed channels RT (fka Russia Today) and Sputnik from broadcasting outside of the country, following a Europe-wide ban on the networks earlier this week. Both stand accused of airing Russian propaganda.

YouTube parent Google has banned both channels in Europe. The company tweeted: “Due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, we’re blocking YouTube channels connected to RT and Sputnik across Europe, effective immediately. It’ll take time for our systems to fully ramp up. Our teams continue to monitor the situation around the clock to take swift action.”

Facebook owner Meta has also restricted access to the broadcasters’ pages on its platforms. Nick Clegg, VP of global affairs at Meta, said: “We have received requests from a number of governments and the EU to take further steps in relation to Russian state-controlled media. Given the exceptional nature of the current situation, we will be restricting access to RT and Sputnik across the EU at this time.”

RT has also been removed from UK-based global streaming news platform NewsPlayer+. A representative said: “NewsPlayer+ is committed to bringing global perspectives and diverse views to our audience. But with a growing footprint around the world, in particular in Europe, NewsPlayer+ has taken note of the concerns of the EU and the UK government that RT is demonstrably part of Russia’s global disinformation campaign.

“It appears clear that RT would seek to continue to broadcast inaccurate propaganda amid events in Ukraine and so, as a responsible UK-based broadcast operator, we have made the decision to suspend the channel from our line-up with immediate effect.”

RT’s European satellite broadcasting operations are expected to be blacked out later today, the Luxembourg company distributing the channel has indicated. Société Européenne des Satellites (SES), which operates the Astra satellites and transponders, which RT leases, told The Guardian newspaper it had been working towards a EU-wide suspension following a sanction announced by the French commissioner Thierry Breton on Tuesday. SES and other satellite carriers are legally unable to pull the plug without regulatory intervention.

Meanwhile, TV3 Group has started rebroadcasting news channel Ukraina 24 on all its platforms in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. To make channel content more accessible, TV3 Group has launched an English-language live audio track of the channel, while also continuing work on Russian translation, which will be available starting March 2.

On Tuesday, the invading Russian forces blew up a TV tower in Kyiv, sending Ukrainian TV channels dark around the country. Two rockets were fired, killing five civilians, according to Reuters.

The tower stands at Babyn Yar, a memorial site to one of the biggest single massacres of Jews during the Nazi Holocaust. Putin has said one of the aims of the invasion is the secure the “de-Nazification of Ukraine.”

The BBC has set up shortwave radio frequencies for the people of Ukraine to keep informed with the news as their TV towers are bombed and internet services attacked.


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