WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of State has condemned “the selective targeting” of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in response to a July 5 ruling by a Moscow court finding that the media company failed to comply with requirements tied to its designation as a “foreign agent.”
Moscow’s Tverskoi district court ordered RFE/RL to pay 100,000 rubles ($1,600) for failure to provide timely financial reporting as required by a new “media foreign agent law” that Russia’s Ministry of Justice applied to RFE/RL last December. The company’s attorneys have defended its filings, saying there was a lack of clarity as to when the reports were due.
RFE/RL President Thomas Kent deplored the prosecution of RFE/RL as a “sharp new escalation” in a Kremlin-orchestrated campaign against the company.
“Of all of the foreign news media serving Russian audiences,” Kent said, “only media supported by the U.S. Congress--RFE/RL and the Voice of America--have been designated as ‘foreign agents’ under the new law.”
Russia’s lower house of parliament is expected to review new legislation this week that would extend the “foreign agent” status to persons--not just media outlets--creating the authority to apply the label to individual reporters. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) criticized the bill on July 3 as the latest step in a "systematic policy" of obstructing the free flow of information in Russia. The State Department warned that it could serve as “a new tool to target independent journalists and bloggers in retaliation for their work.”
RFE/RL has been targeted by Russian authorities previously. Between 2004-2010, arbitrary administrative fees and political pressure were used to dissuade local affiliates from carrying its programs, reducing those affiliates from over 30 to just two. Its journalists have been physically assaulted while on assignment, threatened, interrogated, and detained.
John Lansing, CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the body that oversees the work of U.S. international media, denounced Thursday’s ruling as an “attack on independent media serving Russian audiences.” Citing a U.S. “firewall” legislation that protects RFE/RL’s editorial independence, he said “neither RFE/RL nor anyone who works for them is an agent of the United States government.”
The Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media also criticized the court decision, saying it “clearly shows that the 'foreign-agents' law...narrows the space for freedom of the media in the Russian Federation.”
Despite ongoing Russian interference, RFE/RL continues to provide independent and reliable news and information on multiple platforms to Russian and Russian-speaking audiences through its Russian Service, Current Time TV, and regional programs. These, combined, drew 24 million page views on its websites, 26.5 million video views on Facebook, and 22.5 million views on YouTube in May 2018.