U.S.-based news outlets funded by Russia ordered to register as foreign agents

June 3, 2019

RM Broadcasting and RIA Global LLC — U.S.-based news organizations funded by the Russian government — were ordered to register as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

RIA Global, which produces content for the Russian state-owned news outlet Sputnik, was ordered to register under FARA in January 2018. RM Broadcasting was also ordered to register around the same time, but the outlet’s owner Arnold Ferolito filed a lawsuit over the order.

On May 7, 2019, a federal judge rejected RM Broadcasting’s lawsuit, finding with the Justice Department.

"This Court acknowledges, as have others, that the language of FARA is broad," wrote the judge in that case. "Nevertheless, the Court must apply the statutory language as written; it is not for the Court to rewrite the statute."

Under the FARA legislation, the entities in question must include disclaimers about their connections with the Russian government in their reporting, and provide details about their operations and funding to the Justice Department.

Several other news organizations are registered under FARA — including RT America, Japanese TV news channel NHK, the Korean Broadcasting Service, and the Chinese newspapers China Daily, People’s Daily, and Xinmin Evening News. After the Justice Department ordered RT America to register in September 2017, the Russian government retaliated by expanding its own foreign agent law to include foreign media organizations and labeled nine U.S. news outlets as foreign agents.

Beverly Hunt, Director of Communications for Sputnik News, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that registration under FARA limits the possibilities of what their journalism can do.

“First of all, under this pretext we were denied Senate media credentials, which automatically makes it impossible to get credentialed with the White House,” Hunt said in an email. “Also, our radio programming is accompanied by a disclaimer at the top of each hour stating that this show was produced at the request of Rossiya Segodnya and that additional information is with the Department of Justice in Washington DC. Obviously, this scares off potential listeners as well as guests and experts we reach out to. In addition to this, it allows corporate media to refer to us as ‘foreign agents’ without clarifying what that means, which again creates a notion that we are spies of sort and not journalists.”

In a 2018 article for Columbia Journalism Review, staff at the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote that “in invoking FARA, Congress is relying on a notoriously opaque unit within the Department of Justice to draw an impossible line between propaganda and journalism. Source protection, media access, and the US promotion of press freedom abroad may all be compromised.”

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

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