Congress is using a decades-old piece of legislation to force Russia Today to register as a foreign agent in the US, adding that if the site doesn’t comply with the order by Monday, the DOJ could move to shutter its operations and arrest its top executive, RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan.
Russia Today revealed Thursday that the Department of Justice has given the site until next week to comply with its new interpretation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). RT has been operating in the US since 2005.
While undoubtedly disappointing in terms of its implications for first amendment freedoms in the US, the DOJ’s declaration is hardly a surprise. Under pressure from lawmakers, Twitter last month said it would prohibit RT from buying paid ads on its platform.
The FARA was adopted in the US in 1938 to counter pro-Nazi agitation . Washington has decided to apply the act towards the company that supplies all services for RT America on its territory, including TV production and operations. Just over 400 entities are currently registered under the legislation, though that group doesn’t include a single media outlet.
RT revealed Thursday that the DOJ sent a letter to the company in September saying it is obligated to register under FARA due to the work it does for RT. Most alarmingly, the law demands the disclosure of the channel's confidential data, including the personal data of its staff.
The move "will have serious legal consequences"and "compromise the safety of [RT] employees," the Russian Foreign Ministry previously explained.
Simonyan said on Thursday that the timeframe provided for the company by the DOJ is a "cannibalistic deadline." She previously said that the channel was being forced into "conditions in which we cannot work" in the US, and called Washington's demand an attempt to "drive [RT] out of the country."
Simonyan had said the decision put freedom of speech in the US under question. RT has been under pressure for showing the American audience "a different point of view."
Senator Konstantin Kosachev, the chair of Russia’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told journalists on Thursday that the Department of Justice’s decision is “a dirty political game,” adding that particular Russian media has been “selected” by US lawmakers. The senator called the move “an obviously discriminatory measure.” He went on to point out that there are “dozens and even hundreds” of foreign media operating in the US, including TV channels financed by foreign states, but none of those have been targeted.
‘If RT leaves the US, American media might stop broadcasting in Russia’ – RT editor-in-chief https://t.co/RFSbOucC4s— RT (@RT_com) October 1, 2017
The decision has nothing to do with setting up due process, Kosachev said. It is rather aimed at media which broadcast content “inconvenient” for US authorities. This means sharing information on its foreign and domestic policies, he explained, calling the decision an “infringement of freedom of speech."
As we reported last week, Moscow has warned that a move to restrict RT’s operations in the US would be met with a “surprise” response regarding American media working in Russia. "If someone starts to fight dirty, perverting the law by using it as a tool to eradicate the TV station, every move aimed against the Russian media outlet would be repaid in kind," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
And it appears those measures could be unveiled as soon as next week to coincide with the registration deadline, according to a report from Russian newswire Interfax.
Of course, US interests have been operating the English-language Moscow Times in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, and other media outlets funded by foreign states - for example, Al Jazeera - haven’t faced these types of restrictions.