State Duma adopts law on media ‘foreign agents’
The draft law allowing foreign media outlets to be registered as “foreign agents” has been adopted in the Russian State Duma on the third reading.
Deputies of the State Duma adopted the law on the extra-judicial blocking of sites of banned organisations in Russia, adding the amendment allowing them to name foreign media “foreign agents”.
According to the law, the term “foreign media fulfilling the role of a foreign agent” may apply to “a legal entity registered in a foreign state, or foreign structure without the formation of a legal entity, that spreads print, audio, audio-visual or other forms of reportage and materials intended for an unlimited audience.”
The law includes “foreign media” that “receives money and or other property from foreign states, state agencies, international and foreign organisations, foreign citizens, citizens without a citizenship or their authorised representatives and (or) from Russian legal entities who receive money and (or) other property from the listed sources”.
Foreign media outlets named “foreign agents” then come under the provision of the law “On non-commercial organisations” that regulates the legal status of NGOs who function as “foreign agents”.
Amendments to Russian legislature, extending the law “On foreign agents” to media is Russia’s response to the demands of the American authorities for the TV channel Russia Today and Sputnik agency to register as “foreign agents”.
Amnesty International believes that the extension of the law to give media the status of a “foreign agent” is a new step to threaten freedom of speech in Russia. Independent media and journalists in Russia constantly face persecution and many have been driven out from the profession, said Denis Krivosheev, the Deputy Director of Amnesty International in Europe and Central Asia. The Russian authorities’ new initiatives put pressure on the press on a completely new level, he believes.
“From the moment the law “on foreign agents” came into force, more than a hundred authoritative Russian NGOs were put on the “blacklist”, one fifth of them have shut and many have been forced to limit their work. This is the fate the Russian authorities are preparing for media outlets which have protected their editorial independence by working from abroad”, Krivosheev said.
Member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights Nikolai Svanidze told Interfax that the adoption of the law is an excessive response to the actions of American authorities in regards to Russia Today and Sputnik. He added that under this law, not only state television channels may be affected, but also CNN, for instance, which does not receive funding from the government.
“Moreover, our media will also be affected, which will be convicted for receiving some foreign financing. And thanks to legal manoeuvring it may be that there isn’t actually such financing, but they will come under this law all the same”, the news agency quotes Svanidze as saying.
Ludmilla Alekseeva, member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and Chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said that when non-commercial organisations which received funding from abroad were forcibly registered on the “foreign agents” list in Russia, they were assured that this status would not have any absolute consequences. Yet when Russia Today was named a “foreign agent” in the USA, it alarmed the Russian authorities, she noted.
Alekseeva was quoted by the news agency, “We were alarmed and started to call those who had not yet been named “foreign agents” such, including media, we said ‘what scum they are, what villains’. Why do we worry that Russia Today has been called a “foreign agent”, why do we not just say ‘let them get on with it’”.
Deputies wrote this law “on the fly”, “mixing up everything possible in it”, the chair of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, Mikhail Fedotov, told RBC. He emphasised that media is a form of periodically spreading mass information, it cannot be the subject of legal relations, it can only be their object. Fedotov concludes, “To assign any duties to the media, is the same as assigning duties to things”.
The Chair of the Presidential Council also considered it to be wrong to unite a law on media, which relates to information law, with a law on non-commercial organisations, which relates to civil law. The government can make the decision to take retaliatory measures, Fedotov emphasised, but the law on media as “foreign agents” is not a basis for adequate law enforcement practices.