U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

RT America compelled to register as 'foreign agent' by Department of Justice

Incident Details

Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin
— Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin
November 10, 2017

RT America, an American cable channel that is part of a global television network funded by the Russian government, was compelled by the U.S. Department of Justice to register as a foreign agent under the Federal Agents Registration Act.

In September 2017, the Justice Department formally requested that T&R Productions LLC, the entity responsible for broadcasting RT America, register as a foreign agent under FARA. T&R Productions is owned by Mikhail Solodovnikov, who is also the news director of RT America.

Both he and T&R Productions registered as foreign agents on Nov. 10, 2017, out of concern that a refusal to comply with the Justice Department’s request could lead to the arrest of Solodovnikov and the freezing of the company’s assets.

RT America editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan has said that RT intends to mount a legal challenge to the Justice Department’s decision to classify T&R Productions as a foreign agent.

“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,” she said in a statement. “It deprives us of fair competition with other international channels, which are not registered as foreign agents.”

Registration as a foreign agent under FARA will require RT America to include a disclaimer about its connections to the Russian government, as well as file regular reports with the Justice Department detailing its funding sources.

The Justice Department’s request that RT America register as a foreign agent follows the release of an declassified U.S. intelligence report about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The report alleged that RT was part of “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine” that functioned “as a platform for Kremlin messaging.”

More than 400 companies and organizations are currently registered as foreign agents under FARA, according to the department’s website. Among them are a handful of foreign media organizations, including Japanese TV news channel NHK, the Korean Broadcasting Service, and the Chinese newspapers China Daily, People’s Daily, and Xin Min Evening News.

After T&R Productions LLC registered as a foreign agent under FARA, the executive committee of the Congressional Radio and Television Correspondents’ Galleries — a group of journalists who are empowered by the House of Representatives to manage press access to Congressional press areas — voted unanimously to revoke RT America’s press credentials.

In a Nov. 29 letter to Solodovnikov, the executive committee said that RT America was ineligible to hold Congressional press credentials because the rules of the Galleries prohibit journalists employed “by any foreign government or representative thereof” from holding press credentials.

The Justice Department’s request that RT America register as a foreign agent prompted the Russian government to retaliate by expanding its own foreign agent law to include foreign media organizations.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].