Moscow has erected another roadblock to freedom of expression. New Russian legislation now allows the Ministry of Justice to label media outlets as “foreign agents” and monitor or block certain internet activity in Russia.“Freedom of expression — including speech and media which a government may find inconvenient,” said Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert, “is a universal human rights obligation Russia has pledged to uphold.”
The United States has previously highlighted the threat posed by Russia’s Foreign Agents Law, which has been used to justify a constant stream of raids, harassment, and legal proceedings that effectively obstruct non-governmental organizations from doing their work. Expanding the Foreign Agents Law to include media outlets opens the door to onerous requirements that could further stifle freedom of speech and editorial independence in Russia.
The law, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin allows Moscow to force foreign media to brand news they provide to Russians as the work of “foreign agents” and to disclose their funding sources.
The legislation was rushed through Russia’s parliament in two weeks after the United States required Russian state broadcaster RT to register its U.S.-based affiliate company as a “foreign agent.”
Spokesperson Nauert rejected any comparison between the U.S. and Russian laws, saying the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act “does not police the content of information disseminated, does not limit the publication of information or advocacy materials, and does not restrict an organization’s ability to operate.”
John Lansing, the chief executive officer of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, said in a statement that “Russian media, including RT and Sputnik, are free to operate in the United States and can be, and are, carried by U.S. cable television outlets and FM radio stations. However, U.S international media, including VOA and RFE/RL, are banned from television and radio in Russia.”
The United States urges the Russian government not to use the “foreign agents” legislation to further restrict the operation of media outlets or freedom of expression in Russia.