Russia Today vs Radio Liberty: Why Journalists Are Declared Foreign Agents?

How Russia avenged the US: nine media sources for one RT
05.12.2017
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Today, the Ministry of Justice has included the first media in the list of foreign agents: Voice of America and Radio Liberty are among them. Officially, this is the answer to the so-called “persecution of Russian media in the US”: the US previously included Russia Today in the American list of foreign agents. Russiangate’s review shows how this story unfolded.


HOW MUCH DOES RUSSIA TODAY COST?

It all began with the investigation of Russian interference in the US presidential elections. In a report on this topic, the US intelligence referred to Russia Today, calling the channel “the Kremlin’s propaganda machine” and “part of Russian special services’ operation to ensure Trump's victory in the elections.”

After that, the US Department of Justice recommended that RT register as a foreign agent. RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan reported on that on October 5 at a meeting of the Council of Federation Commission on Protection of Sovereignty and Prevention of Intervention in the Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation.

On November 13 this year – the deadline – the US office of RT has complied with the injunction. “A cannibalistic deadline” was Margarita Simonyan’s reaction to the demands of the Ministry of Justice. As a result, the company saying “we are forced to comply” still filed for registration. “Between the criminal case and registration we chose the latter,” Simonyan said.

A day later, on November 14, the US Justice Department published documents filled out by Russia Today when registering. From them, it became known how the channel is structured. It turned out that a legal entity called Russia Today does not exist.

Instead, there is ANO TV Novosti (TV News) that operates in Russia and orders content from several American companies. Only one such “contractor” – T&R Productions LLC – was listed as a foreign agent.

According to the documents, only one person is employed in it – director of information broadcasting of RT America TV channel Mikhail Solodovnikov. His annual salary was $ 670 thousand. The expenses of T&R for two months amounted to $ 6.7 million. Funding ANO TV News costs the Russian budget 19 billion rubles.

WHO ARE FOREIGN AGENTS?

Foreign Agents Registration Act ( FARA) was adopted in America in 1938, on the eve of World War II. It was aimed at suppressing the sources of Nazi propaganda. Since then, when mentioning the status of a foreign agent, it is about working in the United States in the interests of another state.

The US list of foreign agents already has companies associated with Russia. In particular – Ketchum Inc., which lobbied the interests of the Russian government in the United States in the past.

There are also entities from other countries in the list – the Chinese newspaper The China Daily, the South Korean channel KBS Korean Broadcasting System, the Japanese news company NHK Cosmomedia America. A total of about 1,700 individuals and organizations.

The law requires the listed organization to disclose information about funding and connections with foreign governments. In addition, FARA demands to label the information on air “on behalf of a foreign entity”.

THE RUSSIAN FARA

Even before RT was placed on the register of the foreign agents, reports of intentions to take retaliatory measures appeared on the Russian Channel One. On October 6, spokesman for Russian President Dmitry Peskov announced a mirror response.

As a result, the State Duma made a number of amendments to the legislation on the media. President Putin signed them on November 25. The amendments adopted provide that a foreign legal entity can be recognized as a foreign agent, which disseminates information and receives foreign financing.

Under the law, foreign media will have to report every quarter to the Ministry of Justice about their activities, in particular, about incomes and expenditures. All publications will be accompanied by a note that they were issued by a “foreign agent”.

After some time, the deputies introduced amendments to the State Duma on fines for such media. Journalists, who are foreign agents, can face a fine of 5 million rubles.

As Meduza notes, the difference between the mentioned American and Russian laws is that Washington follows only those who are engaged in “political activities”, and the Kremlin places emphasis on the fact of foreign funding. The content of publications of foreign media does not really matter.

As of now, there are nine media outlets in the  list of the foreign agents: Voice of America, Radio Liberty, TV channel Current Time, AzatliqRadiosi, Sibir.Realii, Idel.Realii, Kavkaz.Realii, Krym.Realii and Factograph. Various authorities were also named CNN and Deutsche Welle as candidates for listing.

The Russian law on foreign agents has been in effect since 2012: it applied to NGOs. Now, there are 86 organizations in the register of NGOs performing the functions of a foreign agent. Most recently, the list has been replenished with a new line. On December 1, a foreign agent recognized the Association of Carriers of Russia – the organizer of the rallies against the Platon system. The Ministry of Justice considered a one-time donation from Germany to be foreign funding.

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