Russia’s Federation Council has approved legislation that would empower the government to designate media outlets receiving funding from abroad as “foreign agents” and impose sanctions on them.
The measure was adopted by the upper house of the Russian parliament on November 22 unanimously 154 votes against 0, with one abstention. It will now be sent to President Vladimir Putin for signature.
Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko said the measure was passed after lawmakers considered criticism from the Presidential Human Rights Council, which said the measure was flawed and asked that it be sent back to the lower house for revision.
The legislation passed unanimously in the third and final reading in the State Duma on November 15. Within hours, the Ministry of Justice sent warnings to several Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) news services.
The letters did not specify potential restrictions they could face, but lawmakers said designated media could be subject to detailed financial reporting requirements and required to label published material as coming from a foreign agent. .
RFE/RL was among several outlets that Russian officials warned could be branded a foreign agent, a list that also included the Voice of America (VOA), CNN and German international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle.
International rights organization Amnesty International said the legislation would be a “deep blow” to media freedom in Russia, although Russian officials said it would not apply to domestic media.
Russian officials have called the new legislation a “symmetrical response” to what they describe as US pressure on Russian media. On Nov. 13, Russian state-funded television channel RT registered in the United States under a decades-old law called the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
The US Department of Justice has demanded RT register following a January discovery by US intelligence agencies that RT and Russian news agency Sputnik were spreading disinformation as part of a an effort by the Russian government to influence the 2016 US presidential election.
In a November 15 statement, RFE/RL said that “the situation regarding Russian media in the United States and American media in Russia remains very uneven.”
“RT and Sputnik distribute freely in the United States, while RFE/RL lost its broadcasting subsidiaries in Russia due to administrative pressures and has no access to cable,” he said. “RFE/RL reporters face harassment and even physical attacks in Russia.”
Visiting the Moscow office of RFE/RL and VOA on November 17, US Ambassador Jon Huntsman said Russian legislation was a “great concern” for the United States and that “the principles of media freedom in any free and democratic society are absolutely essential for strength and well-being.”
Putin’s Duma representative said Nov. 15 that his administration supports the legislation.