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Journalist or spy? New Russian law set to brand some media as 'foreign agents'

Journalist or spy? New Russian law set to brand some media as 'foreign agents'
From CBC - November 15, 2017

The distinction between journalism and propaganda has never been harder to draw than in this era of "fake news," but a new Russian law is trying to set some parametersand journalism advocates are fearful.

The legislation, passed Wednesday by Russia's parliament, the Duma, is expected to be formally adopted next week. It would give Russia's justice department the power to designate non-Russian media outlets operating and broadcasting in the country as "foreign agents."

During the Cold War, that term was associated with spying.

This latest move follows a decision by U.S. lawmakers to force Russia's Kremlin-friendly, English-language RT network to register under its Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).U.S. intelligence services have accused the Russian government of using media outlets such as RT and Sputnik to push pro-Kremlin interests as part of a bigger plan to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

RT's chief journalist, Margarita Simonyan, called the ruling "discriminatory," but on Monday, the company's U.S. arm ultimately complied with the order, filing papers that disclosed, among other things, that its director general makes $670,000 US a year.

The Kremlin's senior spokesman insists the new rules only level the playing field with what Russian outlets in the U.S. have had to live with.

"Any encroachment on the freedom of Russian media abroad is not and wo not be left without a strong condemnation and tit-for-tat response of Moscow," said Dimitry Pescov on Wednesday.

But journalism advocates and human rights groups worry the Russian legislation has the potential to impose onerous provisions on foreign outlets in Russia that go far beyond what the U.S. law demands.

'A fairly desperate situation'

In a news release, Amnesty International's Denis Krivosheev said the Russian 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," said the release.

The group said any media outlet deemed to be a "foreign agent" by Russia would have to declare the source of its funding and provide extensive information on staffing and finances.On Wednesday, Russia's justice department said it had notified two agencies, Voice of America and Radio Free Liberty, both of which receive funding from the U.S. government, that they could be affected by the new law.

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