iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) – The Russian parliament has ordered a check of U.S. media outlets operating in the country, in retaliation for what it said was an attack on Russian media in the United States.
The parliament’s lower house, the State Duma, called for its information and telecoms committee to examine whether the activity of CNN, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other U.S. outlets is “in accordance with Russian legislation,” a press release published on the body’s website read.
The announcement didn’t specify which other outlets could be targeted. Voice of America is a federal government broadcaster, while Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is a private non-profit, funded by a Congressional grant. Both were set up to combat Soviet propaganda during the Cold War.
The lawmaker who instigated the order, Konstantin Zatulin, from the country’s ruling party, United Russia, said the check was a response to calls from American politicians for a probe into Russian state outlets accused of interfering in the U.S. presidential elections, in particular the Kremlin-funded broadcaster, RT.
Zatulin pointed specifically to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, who this week introduced a bill to Congress that would grant the Department of Justice new authority to investigate RT, for possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
RT, previously known as Russia Today, is Russia’s main international broadcaster and has been accused of being at the center of Kremlin propaganda efforts in the U.S. and Europe.
A declassified U.S. intelligence report on Russian efforts to influence the U.S. presidential election released in December described RT as playing a key role in a disinformation campaign meant to harm Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and to sow doubts about the election’s fairness. During the elections, RT focused heavily on negative stories around Clinton, often pushing reports that had been repeatedly discredited.
“We have good reason to believe that RT News is coordinating with the Russian government to spread misinformation and undermine our democratic process,” Shaheen said in a statement unveiling the bill.
The Foreign Agents Registrations Act that Shaheen suggested RT may be violating requires individuals or entities hired to act in a “political or quasi-political capacity” on behalf of foreign governments to register.
The Kremlin makes no attempt to conceal that RT’s funding is from Russia’s state budget, which is published openly, but RT argues it is not directly funded because the money come through a separate company.
“RT News has made public statements boasting that it can dodge our laws with shell corporations, and it’s time for the Department of Justice to investigate,” Shaheen said.
Zatulin, the Russian lawmaker, called the move “repressive.” Russia’s foreign ministry has accused the U.S. of succumbing to anti-Russian hysteria, resembling the McCarthy era.
“Times are being reborn in the U.S. when Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse are considered agents of the Kremlin,” Zatulin said.
The U.S. intelligence report was criticized by many U.S. observers for disproportionately focusing on RT: The largest part of the report was taken up with an annex describing the broadcaster’s work.
RT’s actual influence in the U.S. is debatable. An RT spokesperson claimed to the Washington Post in January, the channel had 8 million viewers weekly in America. But documents allegedly leaked from Russia’s state-media holding, Ria Novosti, said RT’s daily programming in 2015 did not get more than 30,000 viewers. RT is not in the top 100 cable networks.
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