August 11, 2022

EU Court of Justice dismisses application to annul Russia-related broadcast restrictions

The EU Court of Justice recently dismissed an application by RT France to annul actions taken by the Council of the EU to temporarily prohibit its broadcasting activities to or within the EU until July 31, 2022.  The Grand Chamber dismissed the action in its entirety.  RT France, a Russian state-controlled media outlet based in Paris, was sanctioned by the Council on March 1, 2022 in response to the Russian Federation’s launch of military operations in Ukraine for its participation in the spread of Russian propaganda in the EU in support for the invasion of Ukraine.  RT France filed an action in the General Court challenging the sanction claiming that the Council had infringed upon the rights of the defense, freedom of expression and information, the right to conduct a business, and the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality.  RT France also questioned the Council’s competence to adopt the contested acts.

First, the General Court determined that the allegations relating to the Council’s lack of competence were unfounded because of the great deal of latitude the Council is given to define the objectives of the restrictive measures it adopts in order to address serious threats and the infringement of international laws.  The court stated that the Council cannot be criticized when it finds that certain measures are deemed necessary. The court also found that it was in the EU’s best interest under these circumstances that the Council ban the broadcasts throughout the EU as opposed to the French regulatory authority (Arcom) issuing a ban at national level.

The court held that there was no infringement of RT France’s right to be heard because EU authorities were not required hear RT France prior to the imposition of sanctions but were justified to act with extreme urgency to prevent the outbreak of war at the Union’s borders. In addition, limitations on the freedom of expression and information are authorized if certain conditions were met.  The court noted that, due to the significant role that audiovisual media plays in modern society, it was foreseeable that limitations would be placed on the broadcast of propaganda provided by a media outlet wholly funded by the Russian State.  The court also indicated that the nature and extent of a temporary ban complied with the essential content of the freedom of expression and failed to call that freedom into question.  The court also determined that the broadcast restriction was issued in pursuit of an objective of general interest because it was imposed to protect the public and bring an end to the Russian aggression. 

After assessing the body of evidence adduced by the Council, the court determined that the evidence was capable of demonstrating that RT France actively supported Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and posed a significant and direct threat to public order and security in the EU.  For this reason, the limitations on RT France’s freedom of expression were considered to be proportionate, in that they were appropriate and necessary under the circumstances to achieve the goals pursued by the Council. The court also found that the restrictive measures imposed by the Council did not disproportionately infringe upon RT France’s right to conduct a business because the measures were “temporary and reversible.”

EU Court of Justice Press Release | Grand Chamber Decision