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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Friday, December 15, 2017

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In response to U.S., Russia tightens rules for foreign media

Apparent response to the U.S., Russian authorities

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MOSCOW, Russia - In what came as an apparent response to the U.S., Russian authorities on Wednesday, decided to tighten their stranglehold on press freedom for foreign media organizations operating in the country.

In a 414-0 vote, Russian lawmakers passed a legislation allowing authorities to force any foreign media organization to register as a “foreign agent” under penalty of fines or a possible ban on operations in Russia.

The legislation adopted by Russia's State Duma or the lower house of parliament came in retaliation for the reluctant registration of English-language Russian news network RT under similar legislation in the U.S..

Reports noted that the legislation was drafted hastily and will likely be signed into law by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin by the end of the month.

The country’s state media Tass said, "A total of 409 lawmakers out of 450 voted for the amendments, no one voted against them or abstained.”

Earlier this week, the U.S. Justice Department announced, “Americans have a right to know who is acting in the United States to influence the U.S. government or public on behalf of foreign principals."

The company said in its filing that while it gets a "substantial" amount of its money from Russia's government, it does not attempt to influence political discourse.”

After the bill was passed by one chamber of parliament, Presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said, “Any encroachment on the freedom of Russian media abroad is not and won't be left without a strong condemnation and a tit-for-tat response of Moscow.”

Local reports noted that in Russia, the foreign agent label "would apply if the outlet is either registered abroad, receives foreign funding or gets paid by a Russian company that is itself financed from abroad.”

The reports further noted that under the new law, Russia's media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, would be able to "immediately block websites."

The move is likely to effect the Russian services of major international media outlets.

Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International said, “This legislation strikes a serious blow to what was already a fairly desperate situation for press freedom in Russia. Over the last couple of years, the Kremlin has been tirelessly building a media echo chamber that shuts out critical voices, both inside Russia and from abroad.”

Krivosheev said, “Independent media outlets and journalists face reprisals and risk attacks on an almost daily basis. Many have been forced out of the mainstream Russian media space. This latest legislation takes obstacles for media working in Russia to a whole new level.”

The reports also noted that the bill will also allow the General Prosecutor’s Office to arbitrarily block access to websites of ambiguously defined ‘undesirable organizations.’

Krivosheev added, “The Russian authorities have previously used the ‘foreign agents law’ to shackle and stigmatize dozens of the country’s most highly regarded NGOs. Sadly, this is now likely to become the fate of the very few news outlets in Russia who have fought hard to preserve their independence by working from abroad.”

The German government strongly criticized the legislation, with the country’s Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, telling reporters in Berlin, “We view this new media law with concern and surprise. We think it is completely unacceptable if German and European media are - as a consequence of a Russian-American controversy - to be subjected to restrictions which... go against international obligations that we took together."

Further, German Foreign Ministry spokesman Rainer Breul noted that the legislation hasn't yet passed so "it is perhaps a bit early to talk about the concrete consequences."

He said, “Ultimately a lot will depend on how exactly the law is implemented and to what extent it restricts foreign media's ability to act.”

 

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