A company responsible for Russian government-backed media in the United States has registered as a foreign agent, the Justice Department announced Monday.
The registration brands RT America’s broadcasts as the product of a foreign government. The move follows months of wrangling between RT, formerly known a Russia Today, and the Justice Department. Federal officials overlooked the media outlet’s Kremlin ties in recent years, in part to avoid retaliation against American media in Russia, but that changed after U.S. intelligence agencies identified RT as an important player in the 2016 election interference.
"Americans have a right to know who is acting in the United States to influence the U.S. government or public on behalf of foreign principals,” acting Assistant Attorney General Dan Boente said Monday.
The corporation that submitted the Foreign Agent Registration Act filings is called T&R Productions. That firm “has operated studios for RT, hired and paid all U.S.-based RT employees, and produced English-language programming for RT,” according to the DOJ.
RT officials said they acquiesced to DOJ’s registration demand rather than fight a legal battle; the editor-in-chief denounced the mandate as an infringement on the outlet’s freedom of speech. “This demand is discriminative, it runs counter to the principles of democracy and the freedom of speech,” editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said Friday.
The Justice Department emphasized that RT remains free to publish anything it wants.
“[Federal law] does not inhibit freedom of expression, does not restrict the content of information disseminated, does not restrict an agent’s lobbying or publication of information or advocacy and applies neutrally to all foreign countries,” the DOJ noted. “It requires public disclosure of certain activities and relationships through registration by ‘agents of foreign principals’ with the Justice Department. FARA does not limit publishing of materials or viewpoints; it requires only registration, labeling of informational materials and broadcasts, and recordkeeping.”
Russian officials have hinted at drafting legislation that would allow the government to retaliate with a crackdown on western media. "We as representatives of the Foreign Ministry also said more than once that with the ongoing attempts of pressing the Russian media, perhaps, we shall have to make certain changes to our legislative and regulative bases in order to have opportunities of mirror response to the US pressure against our media," deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov said in October.
Those requirements don’t mirror U.S. law, according to the State Department. Russia’s foreign agent law has been interpreted to apply to organizations that receive even minimal funding from any foreign sources, government or private, and engage in political activity, defined so broadly as it covers nearly all civic advocacy.
“Russia’s foreign agent law has been interpreted to apply to organizations that receive even minimal funding from any foreign sources, government or private, and engage in political activity, defined so broadly as it covers nearly all civic advocacy,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in October. “When the United States tells someone to register under a foreign agent requirement, we don’t impact or affect the ability of them to report news and information. We just have them register. It’s as simple as that. Russia handles things very differently.”