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Russia designates Radio Free Europe and Voice of America as 'foreign agents'
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia designated Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America (VOA) as “foreign agents” on Tuesday, a move aimed at complicating their work in retaliation for what Moscow says is unacceptable U.S. pressure on Russian media.
Russia’s broadside against U.S. media is part of the fallout from allegations that the Kremlin interfered in the U.S. presidential election last year in favour of Donald Trump.
U.S. intelligence officials accuse the Kremlin of using Russian media organisations it finances to influence U.S. voters. Russian state broadcaster RT last month reluctantly complied with a U.S. request to register a U.S.-based affiliate company as a “foreign agent”, under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
The Kremlin has denied meddling in the election and said U.S. restrictions on Russian broadcasters amount to an attack on free speech. The new media law in Russia is retaliation, it has said.
The latest move, which is likely to further sour already battered U.S.-Russia relations, was widely trailed. Russian lawmakers rushed through the necessary legislation last month and President Vladimir Putin signed off on the measures on Nov. 25.
Russia’s justice ministry said in a statement on its website that it was now formally designating U.S. government-sponsored VOA and RFE/RL, along with seven separate Russian or local-language news outlets run by RFE/RL, as “fulfilling the role of foreign agents.”
The new designation subjects affected U.S.-backed news outlets to the same requirements that are applied to foreign-funded non-governmental organisations under a 2012 law.
Under that law, “foreign agents” must include in any information they publish or broadcast to Russian audiences a mention of their “foreign agent” designation.
They also must apply for inclusion in a government register, submit regular reports on their sources of funding, on their objectives, on how they spend their money, and who their managers are.
They can be subject to spot checks by the authorities to make sure they comply with the rules, according to the 2012 law, which has forced some NGOs to close.
One of the seven outlets on the justice ministry list provides news on Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, one on Siberia, and one on the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region. Another covers provincial Russia, one is an online TV station, another covers the mostly Muslim region of Tatarstan, and the other is a news portal that fact-checks the statements of Russian officials.
Reporting by Andrew Osborn, Maria Tsvetkova, Katya Golubkova; Editing by Christian Lowe
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