Russia Acts to Name US Media as 'Foreign Agents' in RT Dispute

Zurab Dzhavakhadze  TASS

Zurab Dzhavakhadze TASS

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday in an interview on Russian television that Russia is working on practical steps in response to US government pressure on Russian-government owned media operating in the U.S.

"We believe that the demand does not only go against the law, and we will prove it in court", RT's editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said Thursday, according to the website. "We consider its demand as a wish to eliminate an alternative source of information, which is an unacceptable violation of the worldwide norms of free press", the statement said.

US and any other foreign media that fall under the new restrictions could have to regularly disclose to Russian authorities full details of their funding, finances and staffing and might be obliged to say on their social media profiles and internet sites visible in Russia that they are "foreign agents".

USA government-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) said last month Moscow had threatened to brand their Russian language service projects "foreign agents" in retaliation for US pressure on RT.

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Russian Federation is poised to list US media outlets as "foreign agents" by extending legislation used to restrict the activities of civil society groups, in retaliation for an American order requiring state broadcaster RT to register for a similar status. "In relation to websites of foreign mass media, which are not registered in Russian Federation as mass media but which spread public, socially significant information, these measures also will apply", state news agency Tass quoted Alexander Zharov, head of the government's media oversight agency Roskomnadzor, as saying. "Since such decisions are being made on USA territory in relation to our TV channels, it will be right for us to respond to these actions".

The 2012 Russian law now applies only to non-governmental organizations that receive foreign funding and are considered to engage in political activity.

US intelligence agencies said in January that RT and the news agency Sputnik, along with a network of "quasi-government trolls", interfered in the 2016 USA presidential election on behalf of the Russian government by pushing anti-American propaganda, claims that RT denies.

In a statement posted to its Facebook account Thursday night, the Russian Embassy in the United States said the Justice Department's decision "created a unsafe precedent".

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In case of failure to comply with this demand within this period of time, the bank accounts of RT America can be frozen, while its head could face arrest.

It was not clear how this label would apply to USA media and how it would potentially affect their work, or how many media outlets would be affected. In the past, the ministry also has mentioned CNN, which does not receive USA government funds, but is a frequent target of criticism by the Russian government for what it says is anti-Russian bias in its reporting.

Human rights groups have condemned the label, who say it echoes Soviet-era attacks on dissidents.

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