The Russian government is reportedly entertaining the idea of banning several American media outlets, sources tell the news agency Interfax. It’s still unknown exactly which outlets the Attorney General’s Office might declare to be “undesirable organizations.”
If the Attorney General’s Office decides that a particular foreign or international organization threatens Russia’s national security, it can declare that group to be “undesirable.” Cooperating in any way with an undesirable organization carries stiff criminal penalties, and the organizations themselves are prohibited from disseminating information inside Russia, including on the Internet.
News of this apparent review by the Attorney General’s Office and other “competent agencies” comes just a day after a Federation Council commission on Russian state sovereignty met to discuss U.S. government pressure on Russian journalists working in the U.S., and the actions of the American media in Russia.
On October 5, commenting on the U.S. Justice Department’s recent decision to order RT to register as a “foreign agent,” a spokesman for Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal censor, announced that Moscow has “sufficient legal mechanisms” for retaliatory measures, if the situation with the United States further deteriorates. The same official also noted, however, that Russia’s regulators currently have no issues with the American media, though Roskomnadzor did issue a formal warning to CNN just last week over an apparently “trivial violation” of Russian broadcasting rules.
In May 2017, members of United Russia, the country’s ruling political party, charged the American media with trying to influence Russia’s domestic politics, particularly during the last State Duma elections in 2016. Party members singled out the U.S.-government funded publications Golos Ameriki (Voice of America) and Radio Svoboda (Radio Freedom), as well as CNN.
In early September, the U.S. Justice Department ordered the company that runs the U.S. version of RT, the Russian state-owned outlet originally known as Russia Today, to register as a foreign agent, signaling that all of its content would be labeled as propaganda from Moscow. Days earlier, Yahoo! News reported that the FBI has questioned two former staffers at the Russian state Sputnik news agency, as part of an ongoing investigation into a potentially undeclared propaganda campaign by the Russian government that violates America’s Foreign Agents Registration Act. Margarita Simonyan, the chief editor of RT and the holding company Rossiya Segodnya, has warned that Moscow will likely take retaliatory measures against American journalists working in Russia, raising fears that registering reporters as foreign agents could become the next chapter in U.S.-Russian “parity” diplomacy.
The Russian government currently recognizes 11 “undesirable organizations”: the National Endowment for Democracy, the Open Society Institute, the Open Society Foundation, the U.S.-Russian Foundation for Economic Advancement and the Rule of Law, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the Media Development Investment Fund, the International Republican Institute, the Open Russia Civic Movement, Open Russia, the Institute of Modern Russia, and the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation.