Russian Federation warns U.S. media of possible foreign agent status

Russia warns US media of possible foreign agent status

The Russian Justice Ministry said Thursday it had notified the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and seven separate regional outlets active in Russia they could be affected.

The amendments, which Amnesty International said would inflict a "serious blow" to media freedom in Russia if they become law, were approved in response to a US accusation that RT executed a Russian-mandated influence campaign on USA citizens during the 2016 presidential election, a charge the television channel denies.

The speaker of Russia's lower house, the Duma, said Tuesday that foreign-funded media outlets that refused to register as foreign agents under the proposed legislation would be prohibited from operating in the country.

Petr Tolstoy, the vice-speaker of...

Russian officials, who fiercely condemned the registration requirement for RT, said they took the retaliatory measure reluctantly.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly expressed concern about the bill, suggesting it goes too far.

Tolstoi also said the bill would not affect Russian media that were partially financed by foreign capital. The amendments also would allow the extrajudicial blocking of websites the Kremlin considers undesirable.

Earlier, Amnesty International said the Russian authorities would "tighten their stranglehold" on the press if they adopted the measure.

"We can't say at this time what effect this will have on our news gathering operations within Russian Federation", said VOA Director Amanda Bennett.

"This latest legislation takes obstacles for media working in Russian Federation to a whole new level", he added. Any information they publish has to include a mention that the source of the information is a "foreign agent", according to the legislation.

Mikhail Fedotov, head of the presidential human rights council and an author of Russia's original mass-media law, told the RBK news agency that the amendments were "incorrect". "The amendments on giving foreign-agent status are being adopted hastily and are badly thought out", he wrote.

They were introduced in response to RT, the Russian government-funded English-language television channel, being forced to register as a "foreign agent" last week in the United States.

Under the new rules, Russia's ministry of justice will determine which companies will be labeled foreign agents.

US authorities grew uneasy with RT's presence following the 2016 presidential election - and allegations that RT tried to discredit Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton while allegedly giving a pass to Republican Donald Trump. Moscow has denied any such effort.

Media companies designated as foreign agents will have to file a quarterly report on their funding sources and activities to the Russian Justice Ministry.

Russia's broadside against USA media is part of the fallout from allegations that the Kremlin interfered in the US presidential election previous year in favour of Donald Trump.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on November 14 that "our relations are degrading day by day" and "have reached the lowest point in recent decades".

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