The Russian state-funded TV channel RT says its American division has been given a November 13 deadline by the U.S. Justice Department to register under the U.S. foreign agents law.
RT, which used to be known as Russia Today, said in a statement on its website on November 9 that a move to register under the 79-year-old Foreign Agents Registration Act could lead to closure of its U.S. operations.
The Justice Department, which has repeatedly refused to either confirm or deny ordering RT to register under FARA, declined to comment to RFE/RL on November 9.
FARA requires people working in the United States for a foreign government in a "political or quasi-political capacity" to register with the Justice Department. The law was passed in 1938 specifically to counter fears of Nazi propaganda and misinformation being spread in the United States.
RT's top editor, as well as President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials, have threatened repercussions against some U.S. media in Russia if the registration order is enforced. CNN, as well as RFE/RL and Voice of America, have also been named as possible targets for retaliation.
In October, the Russian Justice Ministry warned RFE/RL that its operations in Russia could be restricted under Russia's own "foreign agents" law.
While RT distributes its programs freely in the United States on cable television, RFE/RL is already subject to severe restrictions in Russia, with nearly all of its radio broadcasts forced off the air by 2012 due to administrative pressure. Neither RFE/RL nor VOA has access to cable TV in Russia.
A U.S. intelligence report has said that RT was one of the primary conduits through which the Kremlin sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
U.S. officials say that Russia's foreign agents law, which Kremlin critics and civil society activists say has been used by Putin's government to silence dissent and discourage a free exchange of ideas, differs significantly from FARA.
"Russia’s foreign agents law has been interpreted to apply to organizations that receive even minimal funding from any foreign sources, government or private, and engage in political activity, defined so broadly as it covers nearly all civic advocacy," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in October.
Under the U.S. law, Nauert said, registration "is simply triggered when an entity or an individual engages in political activity. When the United States tells someone to register under a foreign agent requirement, we don’t impact or affect the ability of them to report news and information. We just have them register. It’s as simple as that."
According to the most recent report filed with the Justice Department, at least five foreign media outlets have registered under FARA, including broadcasters from Canada, Korea, Japan, and others.