Sources within the Russian parliament said on Monday that foreign media organizations would soon be required to register as agents of foreign governments, with a possible outright ban to follow.
The move is seen as retaliation against the United States for sanctions on Russia over interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The Russian parliament approved legislation to require such registration in mid-November. At the time, President Vladimir Putin was said to have some misgivings about the measure on the grounds that it was too broad and could make life difficult for Russian media operating in other countries. Putin evidently overcame these misgivings to order his Justice Ministry to begin treating some media outlets as foreign agents on November 25.
Human rights advocates also worried the new law could be used to crack down even further on the limited freedom of Russian press organizations inside their own country.
The Russian media law is specifically intended as retaliation against the U.S. Justice Department’s new reporting requirements for Russia Today (also known as RT.com), the state-run media organization charged with attempting to interfere in the U.S. presidential election. The DOJ action relied upon the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which was originally drafted to deal with Nazi propaganda in World War 2.
At least nine American media outlets, including Voice of America and Radio Liberty, could be required to register as foreign agents by Russia. International news organizations have expressed concerns the practice could be broadened to include them as well. A key difference between the U.S. action against RT.com and Russia’s retaliatory legislation is that Russia’s restrictions can potentially apply to any media organization, not just those which demonstrably receive support and direction from a foreign government.
“We shall discuss the issue of Russia’s mirror-like response to discrimination of Russian media in the United States, including the possibility of a ban for accreditation of US media which will be declared foreign agents by the Russian Justice Ministry, in the Federation Council and the State Duma, at the commission’s session on December 13,” a senior Russian lawmaker declared.