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Russia could target any foreign media under new law: MP

November 14, 2017

Russia would be able to list any foreign media outlet as a “foreign agent” under new measures expected to be approved Wednesday, a lawmaker said, as Moscow responds to US pressure on the Kremlin-backed RT channel.

The move comes as Washington fights what it calls a barrage of “fake news” from Russian media and online outlets aimed at interfering in US domestic politics.

Parliament is set to approve a number of amendments to an existing media bill Wednesday, meaning they could go into force as early as next week, deputy speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament Pyotr Tolstoy told Rossiya 24 channel.

“(The law) gives the relevant government institution the opportunity to classify media outlets that receive money from abroad as foreign agents,” he said, when asked which outlets are likely to be put on the list first.

Most likely the list will be maintained by the ministry of justice, which already keeps a similar database of non-governmental organisations which have been designated as “foreign agents”.

The bill is a tit-for-tat response to Washington’s move to register T&R Productions LLC, a corporation which operates US studios of state channel RT, as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Russian ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov called the move “unfriendly”.

“Is this good or bad? I think this is bad,” he said, adding that he went to RT’s offices Monday to express support.

– Goal of ‘regime change’ –

Asked to clarify exactly who could be listed as a “foreign agent” in Russia, Tolstoy said they would be “media outlets that receive money from foreign governments regardless of their ownership structure”.

TASS news agency however published details of more sweeping amendments, according to which the measures could apply to any media outlets receiving money “from international and foreign organisations, foreign citizens”.

Senator Andrei Klimov portrayed Washington’s measures against RT as proof that the US wants regime change in Russia.

“It’s an incident (showing) the plans of our partners across the ocean, whose goals are to crudely interfere in our domestic affairs, containment of Russia and in the end changing our political regime,” Klimov said at an event in Moscow Tuesday.

According to FARA’s website, the US government received the relevant documents from RT on Saturday. The documents say that T&R Productions renders services to ANO TV-Novosti, a non-commercial organisation that serves as RT’s legal entity.

In one of the filed forms, the company said it does not engage in political activity but works to “produce news, talk shows and entertainment programs”. It stated that the Russian government finances RT “to a substantial extent” but provided no details.

FARA is aimed at forcing transparency on lobbyists and lawyers working on behalf of foreign interests in Washington, and specifically exempts US and foreign news organisations.

Applying the law to T&R Productions, which operates US studios for RT and hires its staff, was seen as a way around that stipulation.

Tolstoy said outlets that are put on the list will be subject to similar treatment as “foreign agent” NGOs under the law that was adopted in 2012.

Such media will “have to file the relevant reports and most likely mark its product”, he said.

The law applying to NGOs forced many organisations to close.

Others have complained that government institutions refuse to work with them following the acquisition of the “foreign agent” label, which in Russia is akin to being branded a spy.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.