Rus­sia to re­quire US me­dia to regis­ter as for­eign agents

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - International -

RUS­SIAN law­mak­ers raced Fri­day to draft mea­sures re­quir­ing U.S. me­dia out­lets and pos­si­bly so­cial me­dia net­works to regis­ter as for­eign agents, say­ing they could be adopted as early as next week. The mea­sures, which are be­ing pre­pared ahead of Rus­sia's pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in March, would be a huge blow to al­ready tat­tered U.S.-Rus­sia ties.

Vy­ach­eslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of Rus­sia's par­lia­ment, the State Duma, charged deputies with up­dat­ing ex­ist­ing leg­is­la­tion af­ter state-con­trolled Rus­sia To­day (RT) tele­vi­sion was ordered by Wash­ing­ton to regis­ter as a "for­eign agent" by Mon­day.

Volodin told Rus­sian re­porters the new mea­sures, which would af­fect dozens of U.S. news or­ga­ni­za­tions op­er­at­ing in Rus­sia in­clud­ing CNN and Voice of Amer­ica, could be adopted at first read­ing on Wed­nes­day and at a third and fi­nal read­ing next Fri­day.

Wash­ing­ton has been fight­ing what it calls a bar­rage of "fake news" from Rus­sian me­dia, in­clud­ing RT and the Sput­nik news agency, which it says is aimed at in­ter­fer­ing in US do­mes­tic pol­i­tics. "What the US au­thor­i­ties are do­ing to­day is an in­fringe­ment on fun­da­men­tal civil rights, on free­dom of speech," Volodin said.

"The United States speaks beau­ti­fully about the free­dom of speech when it comes to other coun­tries but acts dog­mat­i­cally it­self."

His deputy Py­otr Tol­stoy called for the mo­bi­liza­tion of all of the coun­try's po­lit­i­cal forces, say­ing it was "an emer­gency sit­u­a­tion."

Law­mak­ers said the mea­sures tar­get­ing U.S. me­dia would be "re­cip­ro­cal" and would set the same lim­i­ta­tions that U.S. au­thor­i­ties were seek­ing to im­pose on Rus­sian me­dia.

A se­nior law­maker with the rul­ing United Rus­sia party, Sergei Neverov, told re­porters that the new mea­sures could in­clude so­cial net­works.

Rus­sian tele­coms watch­dog Roskom­nad­zor, for its part, pro­posed block­ing the web­sites of for­eign me­dia groups and non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions, with­out any need of a court or­der. Roskom­nad­zor has re­peat­edly threat­ened to block Face­book and Twit­ter if they do not com­ply with a gov­ern­ment de­mand to store the per­sonal data of Rus­sian na­tion­als on Rus­sia-based servers.

In 2012, Moscow adopted a law which re­quires NGOs that re­ceive fund­ing from abroad to regis­ter as "for­eign agents", a move crit­ics said was part of a clam­p­down on civil so­ci­ety. Law­mak­ers said the ex­ist­ing law would be amended to in­clude me­dia groups.

The head of Rus­sia To­day, Mar­garita Si­monyan, said the broad­caster was "sud­denly" told by Wash­ing­ton it had un­til Mon­day to regis­ter as a "for­eign agent" in the United States or face hav­ing its ac­counts frozen, among other mea­sures. She said RT would chal­lenge the de­mand by the U.S. De­part­ment of Justice in court.

Wash­ing­ton, which con­sid­ers RT a pro­pa­ganda arm for the Krem­lin, in Septem­ber told it to regis­ter its Amer­i­can op­er­a­tion un­der the For­eign Agents Regis­tra­tion Act, which is aimed at lob­by­ists and lawyers rep­re­sent­ing for­eign po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests.

The same month Si­monyan com­plained to Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin that RT and Sput­nik had come un­der pres­sure in the United States.

"As soon as we see con­crete steps lim­it­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties of our me­dia, there will be a re­tal­ia­tory re­sponse," Putin said at the time.

RT has be­come a fo­cus of the US in­ves­ti­ga­tions into al­leged Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

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