MOSCOW: Russia’s parliament has passed legislation to declare international media “foreign agents” in response to US scrutiny of the Kremlin’s RT channel.
Amendments to a mass media law approved yesterday would allow the justice ministry to apply the label, which can also refer to spies, to media that receive funding from states, companies or individuals abroad. These media would have to brand themselves “foreign agents” in all online and offline publications and regularly submit their financial information to the state.
Those that don’t comply could be fined, imprisoned and eventually shut down. The legislation is expected to affect US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of the America, as well as the private channel CNN.
“When they spit in your face, you can of course wipe it off… Or you can let the other side know that it’s unacceptable to do that, and it will have certain consequences,” Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy speaker of parliament, told the news site Fontanka.
Russian lawmakers had promised to retaliate after the production company behind the American branch of state channel RT, also known as Russia Today, grudgingly registered as a foreign agent in the US.
The channel, which broadcasts news in English and often with a pro-Kremlin slant, has come under increasing pressure since a US intelligence report in January said it was part of a Russian attempt to influence the US election. Last month, Twitter banned ads from RT and another Kremlin outlet, Sputnik, over allegations of election meddling.
Amnesty International called the legislation a “blow to what was already a fairly desperate situation for press freedom in Russia”.
Independent outlet Meduza argued that the legislation’s definition of foreign media is so vague that even RT could technically fall under it, since the channel has branches abroad that make money off advertising on YouTube.