On November 25, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law legislation allowing the Russian government to designate media organizations that receive funding from abroad as “foreign agents.” Russia’s Justice Ministry, the agency tasked with identifying the specific media outlets to be targeted, has already notified Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), both funded by the U.S. government, that they must register as foreign agents. The new law, however, is not limited to government-funded media: any organization receiving foreign funding or based outside of Russia could fall under the “foreign agent” classification. The New York Times, CNN, and European outlets could be targeted in the near future. The law also grants the Russian authorities an expansive mandate to block online content, including social media websites, whose activities are deemed “undesirable” or “extremist.”
Russia has framed the law as reciprocal retaliation for the U.S. Department of Justice’s requirement that RT America (formerly Russia Today), a Kremlin-funded and controlled TV channel and website operating in the United States, register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). (The requirement came after RT was singled out in a January 2017 unclassified U.S. intelligence report on Russian interference as the “Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.”) Yet this narrative is blatantly false. In reality, the law is part of a long-standing Kremlin project to muzzle independent media and civil society.
A DISTURBING PATTERN
Regardless of what RT or the Russian government may say, the Russian media law is in no way a proportionate response to RT’s registration under FARA. The United States’ legislation does not limit the activities of RT. Rather, it is a disclosure statute that requires the registered agent to reveal income from the foreign principal and allow the DOJ to inspect its business records when asked. RT is still free to continue publishing and disseminating content in the United States. There is no First Amendment conflict with FARA: RT has not and will not be
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