President Vladimir Putin has ratified a new legislation designating any foreign media operating inside Russia as a "foreign agent" in a tit-for-tat move targeting American media outlets. The new law was hastily pushed through both houses of the parliament in the past fortnight, before it was finally signed by Putin on Saturday (25 November).
The new crackdown was in retaliation for the US move, which earlier asked the Kremlin-funded state broadcaster RT, Russia Today, to list as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (Fara). The Russia television network has been accused of being an alleged part of Moscow's meddling in US presidential election — an accusation which the outlet fiercely denies.
News about the Russian law came via an announcement in the government's online legislation database where it said the law is in force immediately. "According to the text of the law, media that receive financial assistance from foreign states or organisations can be recognised as foreign agents, while the decision on which outlets will be classified as 'foreign agents' will be taken by the Ministry of Justice," read the report on the state-backed Sputnik news agency.
What this law essentially means is that foreign-registered media outlets can be put under additional scrutiny and their licences can be suspended if they fail to meet the requirements. Any media organisation, which falls on the Russian list, will experience the same restrictions that are currently imposed on NGOs.
Another striking element in the Russian legislation is that the law does not distinguish whether the funding of the media outlet comes from a private investor or backed by a government. The outlets will also be mandated to announce in their broadcasts and carry in their websites that they are "foreign agents" once they fall into the category.
Once listed as a foreign agent, the particular media outlet will have to report its expenditure and sources of funding every three weeks. Additionally, they will have to file an overall report on its activities to the Russian justice department every six months. Both criminal and administrative liabilities, including cancelling of the broadcast or taking down the websites, can be introduced if the media outlet fails to comply.
Moscow's justice ministry will have full freedom to decide on implementing the steps on which media outlets. Among those affected by the crackdown will be at least nine American media organisations including the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America.
Andrey Klishas, who heads the Russian parliament's upper house's committee for constitutional legislation and state construction, said the law does not violate constitutional rights as it is not targeting Russian media outlets but only foreign channels.