Russian officials refuse to register independent news outlet due to founder’s ‘foreign agent’ status
Russia’s federal media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has refused to register the website Gubernia Media as a news outlet on the grounds that its editor-in-chief, Denis Kamalyagin, has been designated as “foreign agent.” Journalists learned about the agency’s position from records filed in Kamalyagin’s lawsuit against Roskomnadzor. Officials argue that July 2021 amendments to Article 19.1 of Russia’s mass media law prohibit foreign states, nationals, and organizations from establishing any form of control or influence over a media outlet’s founders or editorial board.
According to Roskomnadzor, Kamalyagin’s status as a “foreign agent” means that his position as editor-in-chief would enable foreign entities to control Gubernia Media indirectly, violating Russia’s laws.
In February 2020, Gubernia Media ended its print edition, leading to the suspension of its media license and the need to re-register. Federal officials turned away Kamalyagin on five different occasions, citing either pandemic restrictions on processing or supposed mistakes in his application paperwork. Most recently, Roskomnadzor informed him that he lacks the right to register a media outlet under Article 19.1 of the mass media law, though officials did not clarify at the time that this is because of Kamalyagin’s “foreign agent” status. He sued to be sure.
In December 2020, Denis Kamalyagin became one of the first journalists in Russia to be labeled an “individual mass media foreign agent.” The Justice Ministry based this designation on the 12,000 rubles (about $165) he received in foreign bank transfers between 2019 and 2020. In the spring of 2021, to demonstrate the law’s absurdity, Kamalyagin donated small sums of money to the re-election campaigns of several prominent politicians, technically making these men “foreign-agent affiliates.” The officials promptly returned his contributions.