Russian Federation lawmakers vote in favor of labeling media 'foreign agents'

Russian Parliament passes law to introduce foreign agent status for media outlets

Russian lawmakers submitted legal amendments Tuesday that would allow the government to register worldwide media outlets as foreign agents, a retaliatory move to a demand the USA made to a Russian TV channel.

The move comes in response to a U.S. Justice Department requirement that RT register as a foreign agent due to its alleged role in interfering in U.S. affairs and the 2016 presidential elections by pushing the Kremlin's agenda.

The law designating media outlets as foreign agents, passed by the State Duma on Wednesday, will allow Russia's authorities to immediately and symmetrically respond to the encroachment on the freedom of Russian media overseas, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

In comments to The Washington Post outside of the Duma hall, Pyotr Tolstoy, a former journalist and talk show host turned lawmaker who led the drafting of the legislation, said he expected the law to target a small number of news agencies at first, but could possibly grow if Russian Federation believes more of its news agencies are being pressured overseas.

The amendments now need to be passed by the Senate and then be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, after which they will enter force immediately.

USA investigators are reportedly looking into whether Russian government-funded outlets such as RT and Sputnik were part of Russia's influence campaign aimed at the 2016 presidential election.

Pyotr Tolstoy, a deputy speaker of the Duma who authored the bill, said he expects the Justice Ministry to take "pinpoint retaliatory measures".

After acquiring this status, these media outlets will be subject to the restrictions and responsibilities, which are now envisaged for non-governmental organizations labeled as foreign agents.

The instruction came under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), adopted in 1938 to counter pro-Nazi agitation on United States soil and applied to those engaged in political activity for a foreign government.

Amnesty International harshly criticized the new bill as an attack on media freedom.

"This legislation strikes a serious blow to what was already a fairly desperate situation for press freedom in Russian Federation". It requires them to publicly declare themselves as such and regularly provide detailed information about their funding, finances and staffing. Yahoo News has reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has interviewed a former Sputnik correspondent about his work at the website. "We think it is completely unacceptable if German and European media are - as a effect of a Russian-American controversy - to be subjected to restrictions which. go against worldwide obligations that we took together".

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