According to a new law signed by Russian president Vladimir Putin on Saturday (Nov. 26), the Russian government now has the power to label media outlets that receive funding from outside Russia as “foreign agents.”
The law is retaliatory. Russian officials have called it a “symmetrical response” to the US Department of Justice’s requirement that the American affiliate of the Russian state-run TV news outlet RT identify itself as a “foreign agent,” in the wake of accusations that the Russian government meddled in the election of US president Donald Trump. While the registration is a new development, it was in accordance with an old US law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which was passed in 1938 to combat Nazi propaganda in the US.
Radio Free Europe reports that several of its news services received warnings they could be labeled as foreign agents, as did the Voice of America (VOA), CNN, and Germany’s international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle. The law also empowers the Russian government to impose sanctions on foreign media, forcing outlets to disclose their funding sources.
On a Nov. 17 visit to the Moscow bureau of Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, US ambassador John Huntsman called Russia’s new legislation a “big concern.”
“I’m here because we as Americans believe that freedom of the press [and] transparency are…an absolutely critical ingredient to a successful and strong democratic system,” he said. “We just think the principles of free media in any free society and democracy are absolutely critical for strength and well-being.”