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Russia’s media watchdog seeks to tighten restrictions on ‘foreign agent’ outlets

Roskomnadzor chief Aleksandr Zharov. (Dmitry Rozhkov/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Russian state media watchdog has posted a draft instruction on how media outlets who have been registered as “foreign agents” must identify that fact in published or broadcast materials.

The draft order was posted on a government website on July 16 and is open for comment until July 30.

The instruction would supplement a 2017 law on designating foreign-funded media as “foreign agents.” After that law was adopted, the Justice Ministry listed Voice of America (VOA), several services of RFE/RL, and Current Time as “foreign agents.” Current Time is the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

Under the law, listed entities must register with the Justice Ministry and create a legal entity within the Russian Federation to carry out all its financial transactions.

The new draft order would obligate such media entities to announce their status as “foreign agents” at the beginning of every published or broadcast report.

The text details that the announcement must be twice as large as the font size used for the headline of the article. For video materials, the text must occupy at least 20 percent of the screen and be shown for at least 15 seconds.

It specifies that Roskomnadzor may impose punishments for violations of the order. For “gross violations,” individuals could face a fine up to 100,000 rubles ($1,400) or 15 days in custody. Organizations could be fined up to 5 million rubles ($70,000).

Acting RFE/RL President Daisy Sindelar said on July 23 that the proposed order was intended to further restrict the media in Russia and to instill fear in their audiences.

“Every day millions of Russians receive uncensored news from Radio Liberty and Current Time about events in the life of their country,” Sindelar said. “The intent of these draft normative acts is to frighten those who seek reliable information and to compel our viewers and readers to feel like criminals or to believe they are in danger if they watch or read our materials.”

“These draft measures are a clear attempt to increase censorship in Russia,” she added.