Russia May Make All Outside News Media Register as 'Foreign Agents'

Posted November 16, 2017

Russian MPs backed amendments that would allow global media that receive financing from overseas to be classified as "foreign agents", RIA Novosti news agency reported, a measure previously used only against NGOs. Afterwards, a media outlet holding the status of a foreign agent will be subject to restrictions and commitments provided for non-profit organisations (foreign agents).

The amendment was developed by a working group led by deputy speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, Pyotr Tolstoy.

US intelligence officials accuse the Kremlin of using Russian media organisations it finances to influence USA voters, and this week Washington required Russian state broadcaster RT to register a US -based affiliate company as a "foreign agent".

The bill will now pass to the upper house, which is expected to quickly rubber-stamp it next week, and then to Putin for signing.

"Every time, Russian Federation is going to take hard response measures, " he said.

"Numerous independent media in the country get foreign funding", Tanya Lokshina, the Russian Federation program director at Human Rights Watch, said in a telephone interview.

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Washington considers RT a propaganda arm of the Kremlin and told it to register its American operation under the Foreign Agents Registration Act aimed at lobbyists and lawyers representing foreign political interests.

The U.S. intelligence agencies allege that RT served as a tool for the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. "The foreign funding could become a pretext to crack down on them".

The new bill is not going to affect the freedom of speech, Petr Tolstoy said.

"I would like to hope that it will only be used once and there will be no need for more retaliatory action", he added.

"This legislation strikes a serious blow to what was already a fairly desperate situation for press freedom", Denis Krivosheev, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

"Sadly, this is now likely to become the fate of the very few news outlets in Russian Federation who have fought hard to preserve their independence by securing foreign funding for their work". But he said the list could grow if Russian Federation believes more of its news outlets are being pressured overseas.