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Russia prepares to label US media as 'foreign agents'

Russia may require US media to register as a 'foreign agent.' It comes in response to similar moves by Washington against Kremlin-backed media.

Russia is preparing "reciprocal measures" against US media after Washington ordered Kremlin-backed news Russia Today to register as a foreign agent.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, said Friday he had ordered a committee to develop a counter-response "to allow us to take steps to protect the citizens of our country and our country itself from overt interference" of US media in Russia.

The US Justice Department has ordered RT to register as an agent of a foreign government by November 13, its editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said Thursday. Simonyan said that RT will comply, otherwise she could be arrested and the news outlet's accounts frozen.

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"We believe that the demand does not only go against the law, and we will prove it in court -- the demand is discriminative, it contradicts both the democracy and freedom of speech principles," Simonyan was quoted as saying by RT. "It deprives us of fair competition with other international channels, which are not registered as foreign agents."

US blames Russian media for interference

The move comes as Washington accuses RT and Sputnik news agency, both backed by Moscow, of spreading "fake news" and propaganda to interfer in domestic politics.

Last month, social media giant Twitter took the unprecedented step of banning RT and Sputnik advertisements in response to allegations they were part of a Russian effort to spread misinformation during the 2016 election.

The Russian media outlets would have to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires persons acting in "political or quasi-political capacity" for foreign interests to disclose information, funding and activities.

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US funded media in the cross hairs

Russia in 2012 passed a controversial law that requires foreign funded non-governmental organizations to register as foreign agents.

"Our law on foreign agents does not apply to media. They are planning to apply a US law to Russia Today and Sputnik news agency," Volodin said.

His deputy, Pyotr Tolstoi, said lawmakers may draft legislation to make media register as a foreign agent.      

"Reciprocal measures will be taken to impose the same limitations that Americans are trying to impose on Russian media based on the 1938 law on foreign agents," Tolstoi said.

The measures could apply to US government funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, as well private broadcaster CNN.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, said earlier this year that it would focus on countering "aggressive Russian pressure and disinformation" by providing "factual information and alternatives" to Russian speakers.  

cw/ng (AFP, dpa)

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