02:16 GMT09 August 2020
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    The latest media attack comes in the wake of last month's revelations by the Anonymous hacktivist collective that the UK government is funding a secret anti-Russian information warfare campaign across Europe.

    Pharmacy2U, the UK's largest online pharmacy, is one of several major British companies which has been 'caught' advertising with Russia's RT television network, The Telegraph reported.

    Speaking to the newspaper, Conservative MP Richard Benyon said his colleagues were "horrified" after finding out that British firms were advertising on RT.

    "I flicked on the channel and was staggered to see the NHS's logo on my screen," the Newbury MP said, referring to Pharmacy2U's status as a National Health Service-backed service providing patients with prescription refills.

    Screengrab of the Telegraph hit piece on RT, featuring a still from Sputnik/RT editor in chief Margarita Simonyan's interview of the two men London suspects of involvement in the Skripal poisoning case.
    Screengrab of the Telegraph hit piece on RT, featuring a still from Sputnik/RT editor in chief Margarita Simonyan's interview of the two men London suspects of involvement in the Skripal poisoning case.

    Complaining that the logo "appeared more than three times an hour along with many other British companies", Benyon stressed that Britain's "doctors and nurses put their lives at risk trying to treat the toxic Novichok nerve agent. I don't think they would be pleased to see the NHS affiliated with RT."

    The UK accused Russia of poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in early March using the A234 toxin. The incident led to a diplomatic scandal between Moscow and London, which included the expulsion of diplomats and new sanctions. Moscow has denied any connection to the Salisbury poisoning.

    "I think British shareholders and consumers should be aware that companies they invest in or use are paying to advertise through an organisation that acts as Putin's mouthpiece," Benyon said.

    Pharmacy2U was said to have pulled the ads after being contacted by the NHS. A company spokesperson told The Telegraph that the RT ads were placed there accidentally, with Pharmacy2U using a computerised system to bid on cheap ad slots automatically. "As soon as we knew about the ad we removed it immediately," the spokesperson said.

    Other British firms, including the British Heart Foundation, garage door retailer Crocodile, the Dormeao mattress company, the Lendable online loans platform,and Staysure insurance were also 'caught' advertising on RT. The British Health Foundation and Lendable told The Telegraph that they have no future plans to advertise with RT, and that their ad buys were made using middlemen or ad exchange platforms.

    Bill Browder, a London-based financier wanted in Russia on tax evasion charges, emphasised that companies need to be "named and shamed, if not forbidden outright," for advertising with RT. "Any Western company who gives RT money through advertising is effectively subsidising Putin's effort to subvert democracy and spread his criminal tentacles abroad," he argued.

    Browder, incidentally, was at the top of the list of UK-based "experts, opinion formers and policy makers" outed in last month's Anonymous leak of materials on 'Integrity Initiative', a UK government-funded program whose goals include interfering in the internal affairs of countries across Western and Eastern Europe and in Russia.

    RT deputy editor-in-chief Anna Belkina brushed off the hysteria over the Pharmacy2U ads, telling The Telegraph that "If a pharmacy serving the NHS makes a decision to restrict RT viewers from information and access to services based on undue political pressure, we should all question how that serves the interests of those in need in the British public."


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    advertising, television, Pharmacy2U, RT, Richard Benyon, Russia, United Kingdom
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