Russia’s justice ministry said Thursday it had warned US-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty they risked being legally forced to label themselves as “foreign agents.” The justice ministry said on its website that it had contacted Voice of America and Radio Free Europe as well as a number of their subsidiaries active in Russia on Wednesday and Thursday to warn them “of their possible recognition as ‘foreign agents.'”
Russia is seeking to impose legal measures after Kremlin-funded RT television, which presents Moscow’s take on international affairs, registered itself as a “foreign agent” in the United States under official pressure. The justice ministry confirmed earlier reports in state media citing “informed sources”, which said Voice of America and Radio Free Europe risked being targeted.
Radio Liberty said in a statement on Wednesday that the Russian law could not be seen as a reciprocal measure as its journalists already face far greater obstacles in Russia than RT does in the United States. “We will continue our journalistic work,” it vowed, defending its “objective and honest” reporting. The move came as a law that would pave the way for media to be branded as “foreign agents” has not yet been passed.
It was rushed through the lower house of parliament on Wednesday with unanimous backing and is set to be voted on in the Senate. If passed, the Russian law will allow Moscow to target foreign media in the same way it has previously punished NGOs with international funding and “political activities.
It would force media organizations to label themselves as “foreign agents” on all paperwork and submit to intensive scrutiny of staffing and financing. Rights groups fear it could have a chilling effect on the ability of outlets to carry out independent reporting.
After being passed by the Senate, expected this month, the “foreign agent” law would enter force immediately on being signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that it would allow Russia to issue “a very harsh response” to attacks on Russian media abroad.