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Russian legislators pass law targeting international media as ‘foreign agents’

Russian legislators voted unanimously Wednesday to pass legislation permitting authorities to force any foreign media organization to register as a “foreign agent” under penalty of fines or a probable ban on operations in Russia.

The legislation passed 414 to 0 in retribution for the registration of English-language Russian news network RT under a related statute in the United States, was prepared hastily and is likely to be signed into law by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin by the end of the month.

The bill allowed by the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, did not consist of a list of media organizations to be targeted; legislators said they would be preferred by Russia’s Ministry of Justice.

Likely targets are U.S. news organizations that receive government funding, including Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, as well as the secretly owned CNN.

Andrey Isayev, a legislator in the ruling United Russia party, has implied that all three outlets, as well as German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, could be registered under the law.

The law also comes likely to be utilized to selectively target media from nations in combat with the Kremlin, especially if that combat involves the state-funded television station RT, formerly known as Russia Today.

The law is appreciably broader than equal U.S. legislation, which targets only state-funded organizations.

Pyotr Tolstoy, a former journalist turned legislator who led the preparing of the legislation, said in an interview that he predicts the law to apply to a small number of news organizations at first. But he said the list could increase if Russia trusts that more of its news outlets are being insisted abroad.

“This campaign looks like it’s going to go on for a long time,” Tolstoy said, referring to what he called to insist on Russian journalists abroad. U.S. authorities allege RT of bringing out a Kremlin-dictated effect campaign aimed at U.S. citizens, an allegation the television channel denies.

“Every time, Russia is going to take strong response measures,” he said. “This is not a nation you can dictate terms to.”

He added that legislators were also reviewing laws about advertising on Facebook and Twitter, the latter having newly blocked RT from advertising on the site. “We are listening carefully to the quarries our colleagues in [the U.S.] Congress are asking,” he said, “and we have quarries of our own.”

The move comes in response to a U.S. Justice Department need that RT register as a foreign agent because of its stated role in interfering in U.S. affairs and the 2016 presidential election by pushing the Kremlin’s agenda. Russia bans it meddled in the election campaign.

In Washington, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) accused the new Russian law, saying there is “no equivalence” between RT and networks such as the Voice of America, CNN, and the BBC, whose journalists “search the truth, mock lies, and hold governments liable.” By contrast, he said in a statement, “RT’s propagandists mock the truth, spread lies, and search to undermine democratic governments in order to further Vladimir Putin’s agenda.”

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