Russian Legislators to Allow Foreign-Media Crackdown

(Bloomberg) -- Russian lawmakers approved hastily drafted legislation that opens the way to a crackdown on foreign media in retaliation for U.S. actions against Kremlin-funded broadcaster RT.

The State Duma, or lower house of parliament, on Wednesday unanimously backed a legal amendment allowing any media that gets funding from abroad to be declared “foreign agents.” The upper house is expected to vote on the measure at its next session on November 22 before the bill is sent to President Vladimir Putin for signing.

The law is based on one already used to restrict non-governmental organizations with sources of financing from abroad, which requires them to label themselves publicly as foreign agents and imposes strict controls on their work. Officials have indicated that U.S.-government funded Radio Liberty and Voice of America as well as the broadcaster CNN may be targeted initially, though they haven’t ruled out further retaliation for actions against Russian media by the U.S. or other foreign governments.

“Russia will respond to any unfriendly actions against our country in a swift and tough manner,” said Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy speaker of the Duma. “This will apply to any step that the Americans adopt to make Russia toxic, in their own words.”

‘Hastily Adopted’

The legislation’s been “hastily adopted and is poorly thought-out,” former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said on Twitter.

Russia’s moving quickly to clamp down on media from abroad after RT confirmed on Monday that it had complied with a Justice Department demand to register as a foreign agent under U.S. law. Several outlets operating in the U.S. including NHK from Japan and the China Daily newspaper are similarly registered under the legislation, which requires disclosure of an organization’s foreign funding.

RT, which said it registered under protest to avoid possible prosecution, denies assertions by U.S. intelligence agencies that it acted as a propaganda arm of the Russian government in efforts to influence last year’s presidential election.

Media that fail to comply with demands to register as “foreign agents” under Russia’s law will be banned from working in the country, Tolstoy said on Tuesday.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.