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Russian President Signs 'Foreign Agents' Media Legislation


The international rights organization Amnesty International has said the legislation would deal a "serious blow" to media freedom in Russia, although Russian officials have said it would not apply to domestic media.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed legislation that empowers the government to designate media outlets receiving funding from abroad as "foreign agents" and impose sanctions against them.

The new law was published on Russia's official legal information Internet portal on November 25.

The measure passed the Federation Council, the upper chamber of parliament, on November 22 in a unanimous 154-0 vote, with one abstention.

And it was unanimously approved in the third and final reading in the lower house, the State Duma, on November 15. Within hours, the Justice Ministry sent warnings to several Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) news services.

The letters did not specify what potential restrictions they could face, but lawmakers have said designated media could be subjected to detailed financial-reporting requirements and required to label published material as coming from a foreign agent.

RFE/RL was among several media outlets that Russian officials warned could be labeled a foreign agent, a list that also included the Voice of America (VOA), CNN, and Germany's international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle.

The international rights organization Amnesty International has said the legislation would deal a "serious blow" to media freedom in Russia, although Russian officials have said it would not apply to domestic media.

Russian officials have called the new legislation a "symmetrical response" to what they describe as U.S. pressure on Russian media. On November 13, the Russian state-funded television channel RT registered in the United States under a decades-old law called the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The U.S. Justice Department required RT to register in the wake of a January finding by U.S. intelligence agencies that RT and Russia's Sputnik news agency spread disinformation as part of a Russian-government effort to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

In a November 15 statement, RFE/RL said the "situation regarding Russian media in the U.S. and U.S. media in Russia remains vastly unequal."

"RT and Sputnik distribute freely in the U.S., whereas RFE/RL has lost its broadcast affiliates in Russia due to administrative pressures, and has no access to cable," it said. "RFE/RL reporters are subject to harassment and even physical attack in Russia."

Visiting the Moscow bureau of RFE/RL and VOA on November 17, U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman said that the Russian legislation was a "big concern" for the United States and that "the principles of free media in any free society and democracy are absolutely critical for strength and well-being."

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