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RT America told to admit it is Kremlin propaganda

News Brief

The American arm of the Kremlin-funded RT network has been told to declare itself a foreign agent in the United States, effectively marking all its output as Russian propaganda.

In a news story on the RT website, the network said the company running its US operations had received a letter from the Department of Justice telling it to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) “due to the work it does for RT.”

US intelligence agencies singled out the channel earlier this year in a report on Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, calling it a “state-run propaganda machine” that “has deliberately sought to obscure any legal ties to the Russian Government.”

There has been no comment from the Justice Department so far, but RT’s Moscow-based editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, denounced the move as a “war by the US establishment” against her journalists. “Those who invented it [free speech],” she added, “have buried it.”

And some commentators believe the US move will play into the Kremlin’s hands - while providing it with an excuse to expand its own restrictions on media activity.

The FARA was introduced in the 1930s, and its main focus has been to combat propaganda efforts by foreign powers. Its list of foreign agents includes a wide range of lobbyists, but RT claims this is the first time a media outlet has been added.

Being labelled as a foreign agent won’t stop the channel operating, but it would have to declare its US broadcasts or web output as being controlled by the Russian government. And it would be a felony if it fails to register.

It comes amid reports that the FBI has been investigating Sputnik, another Kremlin-sponsored media outlet, and as a separate US inquiry continues into alleged collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s election campaign.

There has been applause from some US lawmakers for the government’s move against RT.

But there is concern too at potential blowback for “other foreign news outlets operating in the US,” warned Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, in a quotation used by RT, “but also for Voice of America or independent journalists operating overseas if Russia chooses to retaliate.”

The Russian government also has a “foreign agents” law, which has been used primarily against non-governmental organizations and rights groups that receive foreign funding. But there was a hint that the legislation could now be used more widely in response to the US move against RT from its editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan.

“I wonder how US media outlets,” she said in her online statement, “which have no problems while working in Moscow, and that are not required to register as foreign agents, will treat this initiative.”