Rus­sia pre­pares laws re­strict­ing for­eign me­dia

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY ANDREW ROTH

moscow — Rus­sian law­mak­ers on Tues­day pro­posed far-reach­ing leg­is­la­tion that could des­ig­nate nearly all for­eign me­dia in the coun­try as “for­eign agents,” a move to re­tal­i­ate for a sim­i­lar U.S. re­quire­ment aimed at Rus­sia’s state-funded RT tele­vi­sion sta­tion.

The leg­is­la­tion, in the form of le­gal amend­ments that law­mak­ers are ex­pected to ap­prove Wed­nes­day, rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant ex­pan­sion in a tit-for-tat tar­get­ing of for­eign me­dia fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Un­der the new mea­sures, the Rus­sian Min­istry of Jus­tice could re­quire any me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions in the coun­try that re­ceive for­eign fund­ing, whether from govern­ments or pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als, to join a reg­istry, is­sue special dis­claimers on ar­ti­cles and sub­mit fi­nan­cial re­ports un­der penalty of fines or a pos­si­ble ban on op­er­a­tions.

The move comes in re­sponse to a Jus­tice Depart­ment re­quire­ment that RT, for­merly named Rus­sia Today, regis­ter as a for­eign agent due to its al­leged role in in­ter­fer­ing in U. S. af­fairs by push­ing the Krem­lin’s agenda.

Rus­sian law­mak­ers and other pub­lic of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov, as­serted Tues­day that they were forced to re­spond with stricter reg­u­la­tions of for­eign me­dia in Rus­sia.

“It’s not we who started this, but we can’t just swal­low this gross vi­o­la­tion of demo­cratic norms, in­ter­na­tional law and free­dom of speech, and we have to give a mir­rored re­sponse,” said Valentina Matviyenko, head of Rus­sia’s up­per house of par­lia­ment, in remarks car­ried by the In­ter­fax news ser­vice.

Rus­sia de­nies it med­dled in the 2016 elec­tion, and RT has ac­cused the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment of im­ping­ing on free speech. In a state­ment, the Jus­tice Depart­ment said the U.S. leg­is­la­tion, the For­eign Agents Reg­is­tra­tion Act (FARA), merely in­forms the pub­lic with­out in­hibit­ing “free­dom of ex­pres­sion.”

“The U.S. gov­ern­ment pro­pa­ganda ma­chine has started per­se­cut­ing Rus­sian me­dia,” Matviyenko said.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, speak­ing Satur­day in Danang, Viet­nam, promised a “tit­for-tat re­sponse” against U.S. me­dia. The ver­sion of the bill he saw then “may seem too harsh, but it’s nat­u­ral,” he said.

The Rus­sian law may af­fect con­sid­er­ably more out­lets than the U. S. FARA leg­is­la­tion, which re­quires reg­is­tra­tion by spe­cific for­eign non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions ( NGOs) and other agen­cies re­ceiv­ing gov­ern­ment fund­ing. Rus­sia’s amend­ments to its own NGO “for­eign- agent” laws would al­low the Jus­tice Min­istry to in­clude any me­dia out­let re­ceiv­ing fund­ing from abroad, re­gard­less of whether that source is pri­vate or pub­lic.

Py­otr Tol­stoy, deputy chair­man of the State Duma, the lower house of par­lia­ment, said for­eign me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions iden­ti­fied by the Jus­tice Min­istry would be forced to regis­ter as for­eign agents, then pro­vide fi­nan­cial ac­counts and la­bel their re­ports as hav­ing been pro­duced by for­eign agents. For­eign me­dia that do not regis­ter when re­quested can lose the right to work in Rus­sia, he told jour­nal­ists Tues­day.

It is not yet clear which out­lets the law will af­fect. Rus­sian law­mak­ers have pub­licly named the U.S. state-funded Voice of Amer­ica and Ra­dio Free Europe, the Ger­man state-funded Deutsche Welle and the pri­vately owned tele­vi­sion net­work CNN as pos­si­ble tar­gets. State-me­dia jour­nal­ists have men­tioned other news or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing The Wash­ing­ton Post and the New York Times, in con­nec­tion with the law.

Im­ple­men­ta­tion of the law will be car­ried out by the Rus­sian Jus­tice Min­istry, which al­ready main­tains a reg­istry of “for­eigna­gent” NGOs. Law­mak­ers de­clined to say how news web­sites pub­lished in for­eign coun­tries would be ex­pected to la­bel their ma­te­ri­als un­der the for­eigna­gent leg­is­la­tion. The Min­istry of Jus­tice would de­cide that, they said.

Rus­sian law­mak­ers said they hoped the bill would be ready for Putin’s sig­na­ture be­fore the end of the month.

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