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Foreign journalists in Russia could be branded ‘agents’: MP

July 3, 2018

Russian lawmakers have drafted legislation that could require reporters working for selected media to be branded “foreign agents”, a senior deputy said on Tuesday.

Late last year Russia adopted a law allowing the government to classify foreign media organisations as “foreign agents”.

The new legislation would go a step further, extending the definition to individual journalists working for such media.

The measure is set to be given a second reading in parliament’s lower house next week.

Journalists fear it will complicate their work and could herald a new crackdown on critical voices after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin won re-election for a fourth term in March.

“Individuals would have to publish reports about their financing and how they’ve spent this money,” said one of the bill’s authors, Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament.

He said a new law was needed as a retaliatory measure if the rights of Russian journalists were violated abroad.

He said the General Prosecutor’s Office and the foreign ministry would be in charge of determining who could be branded a foreign agent.

“We expect that these measures will be only retaliatory in nature,” Tolstoy told reporters in comments released by his aides.

The law on foreign media was adopted in response to a move by the US State Department to force a US-based arm of the Kremlin-backed Russia Today (RT) television channel to register as “foreign agent”.

The US government said it was seeking to fight “fake news” from Russian media.

Under last year’s law on “foreign agents”, Russian authorities have so far targeted US media outlets: Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and several affiliated news services.

Russia’s state media regulator last week accused television channel France 24 of violating the country’s media laws.

That move came after Paris issued a warning to the French arm of RT over a news report which dubbed over the voices of Syrian civilians with words they had not said.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the country’s government mouthpiece, this year falsely accused Agence France-Presse of producing “fake news”.

The media law is an extension of 2012 legislation that requires NGOs that receive funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents”.

The label does not directly imply espionage, but in Russian it has negative connotations of unpatriotic behaviour.

Activists see the law as a throwback to the public shaming of dissidents in the Soviet Union.

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