After hinting that retaliation was imminent, Russian lawmakers in the Duma - Russia’s lower house of Parliament - have approved a law that would require nine US news outlets to be labeled “foreign agents” in response to Washington's decision to require Russia Today to register as a foreign agent last week, a decision that Moscow has slammed as hypocritical and infringing on free speech.
Reuters reports that Russia’s lower house of Parliament has approved the law - which allows Moscow to force foreign media to brand news they provide to Russians as the work of “foreign agents” and to disclose the source of their funding.
The law must now pass the upper house, which is likely to happen next week. Once President Vladimir Putin signs it, it will become law. The path to passage looks relatively straightforward, and it's likely the bill will become a law.
The Russian Justice Ministry on Thursday published a list of the news outlets that it said could be affected by the law.
Meanwhile, the outlets are the US-government-sponsored Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe (RFE), otherwise known as Radio Liberty, radio channels, along with seven separate Russian or local-language news outlets run by Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.
One of the seven outlets provides news on Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, one on Siberia, and one on the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region. Another covers provincial Russia, one is an online TV station, another covers the mostly Muslim region of Tatarstan, and the other is a news portal that fact-checks the statements of Russian officials.
Russia's attack on US-funded media is part of the fallout from allegations that the Kremlin interfered in the US presidential election last year in favor of Donald Trump, Reuters noted.
US intelligence officials accuse the Kremlin of using Russian media organizations it finances to influence US voters. Meanwhile, the US has funded organizations like RFE since the early days of the Cold War. RFE was founded to broadcast pro-capitalist messaging to Soviet Satellites in Central and Eastern Europe.
The Kremlin denies meddling in the election and has said the restrictions on Russian broadcasters in the US amount to an attack on free speech. After the US forced RT to register, Kremlin spokespeople hinted that the government had a “surprise” retaliation at the ready.
The draft legislation would allow Russian authorities to designate foreign media as "foreign agents", making them subject to the same requirements that are applied to foreign-funded non-governmental organizations under a 2012 law. Under that law, "foreign agents" must include in any information they publish or broadcast to Russian audiences a mention of their "foreign agent" designation.
They also must apply for inclusion in a government register, submit regular reports on their sources of funding, on their objectives, on how they spend their money, and who their managers are.
They can be subject to spot checks by the authorities to make sure they comply with the rules, according to the 2012 law, which has forced some NGOs to close.
Radio Free Europe said in a statement it did not want to speculate what steps Russia might take against it next, and looked forward to continuing its journalistic work. Voice of America Director Amanda Bennett has said the station remains committed to providing independent news to global audiences.