Guards at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. Picture: REUTERS/MAXIM ZMEYEV
Guards at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. Picture: REUTERS/MAXIM ZMEYEV

Moscow — Russia will expand controversial legislation on "foreign agents" for use against all media that receive funding from abroad, with the first outlets likely to be hit this month in retaliation over US actions against Kremlin-funded broadcaster RT.

Media that fail to comply with demands to register as "foreign agents" under the law will be banned from working in Russia, Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, said on Tuesday, according to the Russian-based Interfax news service.

"Today the myth of free speech in the US has fallen and, along with it, the basis for allowing the mouthpieces of American propaganda in Russia to live comfortably," Andrei Klimov, deputy head of the international affairs committee of the upper house of parliament, told reporters in Moscow.

Legislation will be ready in time for the Russian justice ministry to make the first designations against foreign media by the end of November, he said.

Moving quickly

Russia is moving quickly to clamp down on media from abroad after RT confirmed on Monday it had complied with a US justice department demand to register as a foreign agent under US law.

The Russian law is based on one used to restrict nongovernmental organisations, which imposes tight scrutiny by officials and requires them to place the words "foreign agent" on publications, a label that recalls Soviet-era denunciations of spies and fifth-columnists.


"Media registered in other countries, or receiving financial or other support from foreign government agencies or companies or from Russian companies with overseas financing, can be declared foreign agents independent of their legal status," Tolstoy said.

The changes were not aimed at crimping freedom of speech but were in response to the US’s treatment of RT, said Leonid Levin, chairman of the information policy committee in the lower house. "We would hope that as few media as possible will wind up on this list in the future," he said, according to state-run RIA Novosti.

The US law, which applies to several state-owned outlets operating in the country including Japan’s NHK and the China Daily newspaper, requires disclosure of the media organisation’s foreign funding.

RT, which said it registered under protest to avoid possible prosecution, denies assertions by US intelligence agencies that it acted as a propaganda arm of the Russian government in efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

The media crackdown is part of a broader effort for protection against foreign interference as President Vladimir Putin prepares for a likely declaration that he will seek a fourth term in March elections.