State Duma passes amendment on media classified as "foreign agents"

16 November, 2017, 02:10 | Author: Brenda Erickson
  • The office of Russian state-owned television station RT in Moscow

This measure was a response to the demand of the US Department of Justice to RT America, a US branch of the Russian television company, to register as a foreign agent.

The Moscow-based broadcaster has become a focus of the investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election. It follows an American request for the Kremlin-financed network to register itself as a "foreign agent" under a law aimed at combatting propaganda from overseas. They would be subject to additional requirements and failure to meet them could result in the suspension of their activities. In a statement, the Justice Department said the U.S. legislation, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, merely informs the public without inhibiting "freedom of expression". That has news organizations scrambling to see how it would affect their operations, and Russian rights groups fearful of another crackdown on freedom of speech.

Russian Federation denies it meddled in last year's election campaign, and RT has accused the Justice Department of infringing on free speech.

Russian MPs backed amendments that would allow worldwide media that receive financing from overseas to be classified as "foreign agents", RIA Novosti news agency reported, a measure previously used only against NGOs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin harshly criticized the USA demand regarding RT as an attack on freedom of speech, and had warned that Russia would retaliate.

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The new bill expands the scope of the 2013 so-called foreign agents law which primarily targeted NGOs, forcing several of the most reputable to close and many more to curtail their work.

The media outlets singled out as foreign agents will face the requirements now applied to foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations under a 2012 law. "Over the last couple of years, the Kremlin has been tirelessly building a media echo chamber that shuts out critical voices, both inside Russian Federation and from overseas", said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.

Maria Lipman, an independent Moscow-based analyst, said the new legislation looks "intentionally blurred" and will work "as a truncheon raised in the air, so that various organizations. should be intimidated not knowing whose head this truncheon will hit".

If the upper chamber and Putin also back the draft, it will become law, but implementation of its provisions would be left to the discretion of the Russian government. USA authorities accuse RT of carrying out a Kremlin-dictated influence campaign aimed at U.S. citizens, a charge the television channel denies.

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Rainer Breul noted that the legislation hasn't yet passed so "it is perhaps a bit early to talk about the concrete consequences".

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