Russia's State Duma passes amendments to foreign agent media law

Russian lawmakers in the State Duma applaud after voting to allowing the government to register international media outlets as foreign agents Wednesday

Russian lawmakers in the State Duma applaud after voting to allowing the government to register international media outlets as foreign agents Wednesday

During Wednesday's debates, State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin described the new legislation as a "symmetrical answer" to the U.S. and a signal that "our media can't be treated like that".

The text of the amendment defines affected mass-media outlets as legal entities that are "registered in a foreign nation, or a foreign structure that operates without registering as a company, engaged in spreading printed, audio, audio-visual or any other content prepared for an unlimited group of people". The broadcaster said it would challenge the requirement in court.

The broadly phrased bill will leave it to the Russian government to determine which media outlets would be designated as foreign agents, said Leonid Levin, the head of the Duma committee for information.

The bill does not mention any particular companies or countries.

Russian MPs backed amendments that would allow global media that receive financing from overseas to be classified as "foreign agents", RIA Novosti news agency reported, a measure previously used only against NGOs. They will also be facing a similar responsibility for such NGOs for breach of legislation.

"This decision that we are taking is a forced one, none of us wanted to take such a decision, and it will not influence freedom of speech in our country at all", Tolstoy said, quoted by RIA Novosti.

He noted that the measure would allow Russian Federation to mirror the U.S. demands for RT or any other such action taken by other countries.

Outlets such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which receive funding from the US Congress, would be forced to register as foreign agents. In November 2014, the law was expanded by a bill making it illegal for Russian political parties to receive sponsorship from, or enter into any business deals with, NGOs that have "foreign-agent" status.

RT television, which is funded by the Kremlin to give a Russian point of view on global affairs, confirmed Monday it has registered as a foreign agent in the United States, meeting a deadline from the US Department of Justice.

Many rights groups in Russian Federation and overseas protested against the move, saying it would jeopardize their existence, and complained about "loose definitions" in the original document.

The media outlets singled out as foreign agents will face requirements now applied to foreign-funded non-governmental organisations under a 2012 law.