Russian MPs back law targeting foreign media: Agencies

Russian Parliament passes law to introduce foreign agent status for media outlets

Foreign media operating in Russian Federation will be classified as "foreign agents" under new rules passed at second reading by the country's lower house of parliament Wednesday, local news agency RIA reported.

The legislation must then be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

They are broadly phrased to allow the government to declare practically any foreign media outlet as a foreign agent.

Mr Putin has criticised the USA demand regarding RT as an attack on freedom of speech and warned that Russian Federation would retaliate.

One of the key sponsors of the new bill, Deputy Duma Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy (United Russia) called the motion "a forced decision that would not affect the freedom of speech in any way".

It states that such entities can be "recognized as foreign mass media executing the functions of a foreign agent if they receive monetary funds or other property from foreign states, government agencies, foreign-based and worldwide organizations, foreign citizens and persons without citizenship or any other persons acting on behalf of foreign citizens and organizations", according to TASS.

The bill will allow the Ministry of Justice to recognize any company based overseas and spreading information as foreign media. The amendment was introduced in the second reading of the bill, which initially dealt with a related issue, specifically, the possibility of the pre-judicial blocking of websites of the organizations outlawed in Russian Federation.

Currently, 11 global nonprofit organizations have been declared "undesirable" in Russian Federation, but none of their websites has been blocked. He said Russian Federation would retaliate.

Mikhail Fedotov, head of the presidential human rights council and an author of Russia's original mass-media law, told the RBK news agency that the amendments were "incorrect". In mid-2016, President Vladimir Putin signed a bill into law that defined the term "political activity of non-governmental organizations" and exempted charity groups receiving funding from overseas from having to register as foreign agents. "The amendments on giving foreign-agent status are being adopted hastily and are badly thought out", he wrote.

The measures were introduced in response to a move by the U.S. Department of Justice to force RT America, linked to the Kremlin-backed RT, to register as a "foreign agent" after U.S. intelligence officials accused Russian Federation of seeking to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The Moscow-based broadcaster has become a focus of the investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election.

"It will up to the Justice Ministry to decide whom to list as foreign agents", Levin said.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said last month that the need for registration under FARA "is simply triggered when an entity or an individual engages in political activity".

The developments come as ties between the United States and Russian Federation continue to be severely strained over issues including Moscow's alleged interference in the USA presidential election past year and its military intervention in Ukraine.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on November 14 that "our relations are degrading day by day" and "have reached the lowest point in recent decades".

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