Rus­sia hits back over TV sta­tion squeeze with me­dia law

Business Day - - INTERNATIONAL - Henry Meyer Moscow

Rus­sia will ex­pand con­tro­ver­sial leg­is­la­tion on “for­eign agents” for use against all me­dia that re­ceive fund­ing from abroad, with the first out­lets likely to be hit this month in re­tal­i­a­tion over US ac­tions against Kreml-in­funded broad­caster RT.

Me­dia that fail to com­ply with de­mands to regis­ter as “for­eign agents” un­der the law will be banned from work­ing in Rus­sia, Py­otr Tol­stoy, deputy speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of par­lia­ment, said on Tues­day, ac­cord­ing to the Rus­sian-based In­ter­fax news ser­vice.

“Today the myth of free speech in the US has fallen and, along with it, the ba­sis for al­low­ing the mouth­pieces of Amer­i­can pro­pa­ganda in Rus­sia to live com­fort­ably,” Andrei Klimov, deputy head of the in­ter­na­tional af­fairs com­mit­tee of the up­per house of par­lia­ment, told re­porters in Moscow.

Leg­is­la­tion will be ready in time for the Rus­sian jus­tice min­istry to make the first des­ig­na­tions against for­eign me­dia by the end of Novem­ber, he said.


Rus­sia is mov­ing quickly to clamp down on me­dia from abroad af­ter RT con­firmed on Mon­day it had com­plied with a US jus­tice depart­ment de­mand to regis­ter as a for­eign agent un­der US law.

The Rus­sian law is based on one used to re­strict non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, which im­poses tight scru­tiny by of­fi­cials and re­quires them to place the words “for­eign agent” on pub­li­ca­tions, a la­bel that re­calls Soviet-era de­nun­ci­a­tions of spies and fifth-columnists.

“Me­dia reg­is­tered in other coun­tries, or re­ceiv­ing fi­nan­cial or other sup­port from for­eign gov­ern­ment agen­cies or com­pa­nies or from Rus­sian com­pa­nies with over­seas fi­nanc­ing, can be de­clared for­eign agents in­de­pen­dent of their le­gal sta­tus,” Tol­stoy said.

The changes were not aimed at crimp­ing free­dom of speech but were in re­sponse to the US’s treat­ment of RT, said Leonid Levin, chair­man of the in­for­ma­tion pol­icy com­mit­tee in the lower house. “We would hope that as few me­dia as pos­si­ble will wind up on this list in the fu­ture,” he said, ac­cord­ing to state-run RIA Novosti.

The US law, which ap­plies to sev­eral state-owned out­lets op­er­at­ing in the coun­try in­clud­ing Ja­pan’s NHK and the China Daily news­pa­per, re­quires dis­clo­sure of the me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tion’s for­eign fund­ing.

RT, which said it reg­is­tered un­der protest to avoid pos­si­ble pros­e­cu­tion, de­nies as­ser­tions by US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies that it acted as a pro­pa­ganda arm of the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment in ef­forts to in­flu­ence the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The me­dia crack­down is part of a broader ef­fort for pro­tec­tion against for­eign in­ter­fer­ence as Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin pre­pares for a likely dec­la­ra­tion that he will seek a fourth term in March elec­tions.


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