Russian Duma embraces amendments defining foreign agents in media

Vyacheslav Prokofyev  TASS

Vyacheslav Prokofyev TASS

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. It says that the Russian Justice Ministry will specify which mass-media outlets should register as foreign agents. "We didn't want to pass this law", said Pyotr Tolstoy, the deputy speaker of Parliament.

The U.S. demand for RT to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) came after American intelligence agencies singled out the network in their report into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Wednesday's move by the parliament's lower house is a rapid quid pro quo response after the Russian state-funded TV channel RT registered with the U.S. Justice Department as a foreign agent after pressure from the U.S. government.

Before the law comes into force, it will have to be approved by the Council of the Federation and signed by the president. He said the rule would be likely to curtail the Russian-language services of the BBC, Deutsche Welle and the Washington-funded outlets Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

Duma Deputy Speaker Petr Tolstoy said before the vote that the amendments were a response measure and they were necessary after the U.S. had demanded that the Russian channel RT obtain the foreign agent status.

"I would like to hope that it will only be used once and there will be no need for more retaliatory action", he added. It requires them to publicly declare themselves as such and regularly provide detailed information about their funding, finances and staffing.

"This legislation strikes a serious blow to what was already a fairly desperate situation for press freedom in Russian Federation".

"The Kremlin has been tirelessly building a media echo chamber that shuts out critical voices", Mr. Krivosheev said, "both inside Russian Federation and from overseas".

They can be subject to spot checks by the authorities to make sure they comply with the rules, according to the 2012 law.

Putin has been fiercely critical of USA measures towards Russian media, but he has not given wholehearted support to the draft legislation, saying at the weekend it "might be a little too harsh".

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