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Russia warns US media of potential foreign agent status

Russian authorities have warned representatives of several US media in Moscow that a new bill approved in parliament could designate them as foreign agents.

Russia’s Justice Ministry said Thursday that it had warned the outlets a day after the State Duma, the country’s lower chamber, approved a bill that could allow authorities to register the media that receive foreign funding as foreign agents.

It said a notice was sent to the office of US government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that they could become foreign agents under the new legislation. The notice also warned that the same would go for their regional outlets.

Under the Duma bill, which should be approved in the upper house of parliament and by President Vladimir Putin before it goes into force, media outlets that are named foreign agents should declare themselves to authorities as such and file regular reports about their funding and staffing.

The legislation came days after US authorities imposed same restrictions on Russia Today, a TV channel sponsored by the Kremlin, over allegations that it interfered in last year’s presidential elections in the US.

Russian authorities, including President Putin, reacted angrily to Washington’s decision which they said was an attack on freedom of speech, while vowing to retaliate.

The new Russian law will leave it to the Justice Ministry to judge on the activities of foreign media outlets and whether they should be registered as foreign agents.

The adoption of the legislation in the Duma sparked criticism in the West, especially by rights campaigners, who said it was an attack on media freedom.

The clash between the US and Russia over media activity is the latest to come amid a confrontation which escalated after the administration of former US President Barack Obama expelled Russian diplomats late last year over their alleged interference in the presidential elections. Russian authorities have denied any involvement in the vote, which led to the victory of incumbent President Donald Trump, saying the allegations are just serving political parties in the US.

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