Russia to amend law to classify U.S. media 'foreign agents'
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's parliament warned on Friday some U.S. and other foreign media could be declared "foreign agents" and obliged to regularly declare full details of their funding, finances and staffing.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the State Duma, said parliament could back legislation as early as next week in response to what lawmakers view as U.S. pressure on Russian media.
"Possible restrictions will be the same as those taken by the United States," Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
He said some U.S. media in Russia were trying to turn U.S. public opinion against Moscow.
"We understand that it's essential to protect the interests of our citizens and the country and we will do this in the same way as the country which lays claim to be the gold standard and mentor and which is constantly talking about freedom."
Russian lawmakers said the move was retaliation for a demand by the U.S. Department of Justice that Kremlin-backed TV station RT register in the United States as a "foreign agent", something Moscow has said it regards as an unfriendly act.
The U.S. action against RT was taken after U.S. intelligence agencies accused Russia of trying to interfere in last year's U.S. presidential election to help President Donald Trump win the White House, something Moscow has denied.
Russia faces a presidential election next March. Vladimir Putin is widely expected to stand again and to win. He remains broadly popular though critics accuse him of suppressing dissent, not least by tight control of domestic media.
Lawmakers will conduct a first reading of the new restrictions on Nov. 15 and try to complete approval in two further readings by the end of next week.
U.S. and any other foreign media that fall under the new restrictions could have to regularly disclose to Russian authorities full details of their funding, finances and staffing and might be obliged to say on their social media profiles and internet sites visible in Russia that they are "foreign agents".
The Duma earlier this year launched an investigation into whether CNN, Voice of America, Radio Liberty and "other American media" were complying with Russian law.
U.S. government-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) said last month Moscow had threatened to brand their Russian language service projects "foreign agents" in retaliation for U.S. pressure on RT.
On Friday, Joanna Levison, RFE's director of media and public affairs, declined to speculate about how the latest move might affect the broadcaster, but said RFE had "every intention" of continuing its journalistic work in Russia.
"... While RT is able to work and distribute its content freely in the U.S., RFE/RL has lost all of its broadcast affiliates in Russia due to administrative pressure, it has no access to cable TV, and its reporters are beaten and harassed," Levison said in an emailed comment.
Russia said last month it had dropped accusations against CNN International of violating Russian media law and that the U.S. channel could continue broadcasting in Russia.
San Francisco-based social network Twitter has also angered Russian authorities when it accused RT and the Sputnik news outlet of interfering in the 2016 U.S. election and banned them from buying ads on its network.
(Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Ralph Boulton, William Maclean)
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