Irish man sanctioned by British government for Russian media links

Bryan MacDonald says he was head of the online desk at rt.com

British foreign secretary Liz Truss said the RT (formerly Russian Today) and Sputnik news outlets were “behind [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s vicious disinformation campaign” in relation to the war in Ukraine. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

British foreign secretary Liz Truss said the RT (formerly Russian Today) and Sputnik news outlets were “behind [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s vicious disinformation campaign” in relation to the war in Ukraine. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

 

Irish journalist Bryan MacDonald has been sanctioned by the British government for his involvement with the Russian government-owned RT news channel.

Mr MacDonald is the first Irish citizen to be sanctioned by the British following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Those sanctioned will not be allowed to visit the UK and any assets they have there will be frozen.

Mr MacDonald said the sanctions imposed on him were “beyond ridiculous” as he had no money in UK banks. “Nor do I have a mansion in Berkshire, or a penthouse in Hyde Park,” he told The Irish Times.

“I was a journalist working for a news outlet. Not a tycoon. Unlike, for instance, many of those Russians who have donated to Britain’s ruling Conservative party.”

In announcing new sanctions on Wednesday, British foreign secretary Liz Truss said the RT (formerly Russian Today) and Sputnik news outlets were “behind [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s vicious disinformation campaign” in relation to the war in Ukraine.

Dozens of executives and journalists with both stations have been sanctioned, along with some prominent journalists at Channel One.

Britain’s tech and digital economy junior minister Chris Philp said both RT and Sputnik had been broadcasting “dangerous nonsense dressed up as serious news to justify Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“These outlets have already been booted off the airwaves in Britain and we’ve barred anyone from doing business with them.

“Now we’ve moved to pull the plug on their websites, social media accounts and apps to further stop the spread of their lies.”

In its judgement, the British office of financial sanctions named Mr MacDonald as Brian McDonald. “POB: Kilkenny, Republic of Ireland a.k.a: MACDONALD, Bryan Nationality: Republic of Ireland Position: Journalist”.

He was described as the head of the Russia desk for the English language edition of RT.

The British office of financial sanctions stated: “RT is owned or controlled by ANO TV-NOVOSTI, which is or has been involved in obtaining a benefit from or supporting the Government of Russia by carrying on business as a Government of Russia-affiliated entity and carrying on business in a strategically significant sector to the Government of Russia.

“ANO TV-NOVOSTI was designated by the United Kingdom on 31 March 2022. Therefore, as an employee of RT, MCDONALD is a member of, or associated with, a person involved in destabilising Ukraine or undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence of Ukraine, or obtaining a benefit from or supporting the Government of Russia.”

Mr MacDonald responded by stating that the British government had “false information” about him, and that he was the head of the online desk at rt.com, “totally separate to the television”.

He added: “What makes this ruling even more ridiculous is that I ran the (online) desk to the highest professional standards. We did not engage in any disinformation. Our output was balanced and rigorously fact checked. Under no metric could it have been considered ‘propaganda’. In fact, this seemed to upset some people as they wanted RT to fit a particular narrative.

“The desk was disbanded more than two months ago. Incidentally, almost all the other employees were Brits.

“I just think it’s really sad. And it reflects badly on the British government, which claims to have respect for press freedom.”

On February 25th, a day after the Russian invasion began, Mr MacDonald apologised on his Twitter feed @27khv for misjudging Putin.

“I genuinely didn’t believe Russia would launch a full-scale military attack on Ukraine. Like most journalists, analysts & pundits based in Russia, I thought it was sabre-rattling or a bluff to force the West’s hand in negotiations. I apologise for getting it so badly wrong.”

Bryan MacDonald is not the same journalist as Brian McDonald, a retired former Irish Independent and freelance writer based in the west of Ireland.