MOSCOW — Russia will adopt new measures to restrict U.S. media working there after a Russian English language TV channel said it was pressured to register as a foreign agent in America, said a senior legislator.
State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said lawmakers will consider changing the Russian law on foreign agents to extend it to the media. Until now, that law has been applied to just nongovernmental organizations that receive financing from abroad, and engage in what the government determines “political activity.” The law has been criticized as a way for the Russian government to marginalize civil society institutions.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that English-language RT satellite news channel is an instrument of the Russian government that pushes anti-American propaganda.
Volodin’s address to the Duma signaled that the Russian government now plans to treat U.S. media as the same.
“All actions of American media outlets indicate that their policy and position is totally unfriendly and that this interference is absolutely undisguised,” Volodin said. “Since such decisions are being made on U.S. territory in relation to our TV channels, it will be right for us to respond to these actions.”
RT’s registration follows a months-long back-and-forth with the Justice Department over whether it was required by U.S. law to register as an agent of the Russian government.
“The American Justice Department has left us with no choice,” RT’s editor in chief Margarita Simonyan said in a statement posted on the organization’s website Thursday. “Our lawyers say that if we don’t register as a foreign agent, the director of our company in America could be arrested, and the accounts of the company could be seized. In short, in this situation the company would not be able to work. Between those consequences and registering as a foreign agent, we are forced to choose registration.”
She added: “We will continue to work and continue to fight this as long as it’s possible.”
RT disputes that it is an agent of the Kremlin, arguing that it merely offers alternatives to mainstream news coverage.
“Reciprocal measures will be put in place to ensure the same restrictions as the Americans are now trying to impose on Russian media outlets,” Pytor Tolstoy, a deputy speaker of the Duma.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last month told a conference of foreign policy scholars that Russia would respond immediate and reciprocally to “any efforts to limit our mass media.”
Russian news media reported in October that the upper house of the Russian parliament had drawn up a blacklist of at least five U.S. media outlets whose activities in Russia could be restricted in response.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment to the Post Thursday.
U.S. intelligence agencies in January described RT America TV as “a Kremlin-financed channel operated from within the United States, (which) has substantially expanded its repertoire of programming that highlights criticism of alleged U.S. shortcomings in democracy and civil liberties.”
The assessment also said RT America “has positioned itself as a domestic U.S. channel and has deliberately sought to obscure any legal ties to the Russian government,” but behind the scenes, “the Kremlin staffs RT and closely supervises RT’s coverage, recruiting people who can convey Russian strategic messaging because of their ideological beliefs.”
The Russian law on foreign agents in recent years has been used on nongovernmental groups that do not toe the Kremlin party line. Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest human rights groups, which has for three decades sought to expose Soviet mass killings and arrests, and the Levada Center, an independent polling agency, were forced to register as foreign agents.
The Russian law does not restrict activity, but requires organizations to place the “foreign agent” label on all their documents.
It’s not entirely clear how this label would apply to U.S. media and how it would potentially affect their work.