Russian Federation moves to label foreign media as 'foreign agents'

Wednesday, 15 Nov, 2017

The Russian lawmakers unanimously passed the amendments in the second reading and are considering them now in the third and final reading.

United States intelligence agencies allege that RT served as a Kremlin tool to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. Russian Federation has denied any interference.

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

It states that such entities can be "recognized as foreign mass media executing the functions of a foreign agent if they receive monetary funds or other property from foreign states, government agencies, foreign-based and global organizations, foreign citizens and persons without citizenship or any other persons acting on behalf of foreign citizens and organizations", according to TASS.

The original Russian Foreign Agents Law, introduced in late 2012, obliges all NGOs that receive funding from overseas and are engaged in political activities to register as foreign agents or risk substantial fines. Critics of the law have said the definition of political activity is so loose that it could be used against nearly any non-governmental organization.

The law was approved after a slew of massive anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow in 2011-2012.

At the same time, Putin has harshly criticized the US demand regarding the RT channel as an attack on freedom of speech.

Krivosheyev said independent media outlets and journalists in Russia face "reprisals and risk attacks on an nearly daily basis", adding that many of them have been "forced out of the mainstream Russian media space".

The amendments to cover non-Russian media outlets are on a rapid course. The State Duma is set to approve them on Wednesday.

The bill will go to the upper house and then to President Vladimir Putin for signing.

It wasn't immediately clear how the proposed amendments would be applied.

Outlets such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which receive funding from the US Congress, would be forced to register as foreign agents. There are no additional selection criteria in the law: Leonid Levin, the Chairperson of the State Duma Information Policy Committee, said that the Ministry of Justice would work on the selection principle itself.

"It will up to the Justice Ministry to decide whom to list as foreign agents", Levin said. "I expect the amendments to be applied strictly quid pro quo in response to the moves against Russian media".

The amendment was developed by a working group led by deputy speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, Pyotr Tolstoy. The pressure against RT has led to mass resignations in the broadcaster's U.S. office and difficulties in finding new staff.