RT Says U.S. Ordered Contractor For RT America To Register As 'Foreign Agent'
RFE/RL September 13, 2017
Russian state broadcaster RT and U.S. media are reporting that the U.S. Justice Department has asked RT to register a company that supplies extensive services for its U.S. outlet as a "foreign agent." *
RT and media reports said on September 12 that the company was told by the department in a letter that it must register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires disclosures by lobbyists and lawyers representing foreign political interests.
RT did not name the company in its report, but said it "supplies all services for [the] RT America channel, including TV production and operations," in the United States.
The Justice Department did not confirm or comment on the reports.
RT is "consulting with our lawyers and...reviewing the request," the AFP news agency quoted RT spokeswoman Anna Belkina as saying on September 12.
On its website, RT editor in chief Margarita Simonyan accused the United States of waging "war" on Russian media.
"The war the U.S. establishment wages with our journalists is dedicated to all the starry-eyed idealists who still believe in freedom of speech. Those who invented it, have buried it," she said.
A U.S. intelligence report in January concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election and singled out RT, calling it "the Kremlin's principal international propaganda outlet."
The report said RT America "has positioned itself as a domestic U.S. channel and has deliberately sought to obscure any legal ties to the Russian government."
The report said RT had also contracted with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which published leaked internal e-mails from the Democratic National Committee during the election.
Some people employed by RT "actively collaborated with WikiLeaks" during the presidential election, the intelligence report said.
Since that report came out, the Russian broadcaster has become a focus of investigations into alleged Russian interference in the election in Congress and at the Justice Department.
RT has been scrutinized for its links to Michael Flynn, who was U.S. President Donald Trump's first national security adviser and who was paid by RT in December 2015 to speak at an anniversary gala where he sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The U.S. foreign-agents law was enacted to shed light on who in Washington might be working for foreign governments.
The alleged move against RT came the same week that Andrew Feinberg, who worked for the Russian state-funded Sputnik news agency until May, said he was interviewed by FBI officials on September 1.
The U.S. intelligence report in January said Sputnik and RT conducted an "influence campaign" on behalf of the Kremlin during the presidential election that sought to bolster support for then-Republican candidate Donald Trump and sow opposition against his Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton.
Feinberg said that the FBI officials focused in the interview on how Sputnik operates internally as it generates news across different platforms. He told RFE/RL that he turned over a thumb drive containing thousands of internal e-mails from his five months at Sputnik.
The FBI's questioning, Feinberg said, seemed directed at whether Sputnik operates more like a foreign agent or lobbyist than other news operations.
"There are clear differences in the editorial process" at Sputnik, he said. "They do not practice journalism the way a bona fide news agency practices journalism."
Yahoo news reported on September 11 that the FBI was investigating whether Sputnik violated the foreign-agents law.
U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat-New Hampshire) on September 12 applauded the FBI's probe of Sputnik.
"I'm very encouraged that the FBI is investigating the Sputnik news agency, which is funded by the Russian government. We can't allow foreign agents, particularly those working on behalf of our adversaries, to skirt our laws," Shaheen said in a statement.
"Every new revelation about Russia's use of propaganda to influence the 2016 election further highlights the need for the federal government to bolster its enforcement" of the foreign-agents law, she said.
The alleged U.S. pressure on Russian news outlets raised worries of a possible backlash against U.S. outlets operating in Russia.
Courtney Radsch of the Committee to Protect Journalists said she was concerned the move "could be used by Russian authorities to justify their repressive media policies."
"Russia already heavily censors its information space, including by branding some of its most prominent human rights defenders as foreign agents, in an attempt to delegitimize and vilify them," Radsch said.
* CORRECTION: This article has been amended to correct the description of the company asked to register as a "foreign agent."
With reporting by AFP, The Hill, and Newsweek
Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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