Accessibility links

Breaking News

U.S. Ambassador To Russia Says New Foreign-Media Legislation Is 'Big Concern'

U.S. Ambassador Raises Concerns Over Russian Moves On Foreign Media
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:01:42 0:00

WATCH: U.S. Ambassador Raises Concerns Over Russian Moves On Foreign Media

The U.S. ambassador to Russia has visited the Moscow bureau of RFE/RL and Voice of America in a gesture of support for American media that could be targeted by new Russian legislation.

MOSCOW -- The U.S. ambassador to Russia said during a visit to the the Moscow bureau of RFE/RL and Voice of America (VOA) that new Russian legislation targeting foreign media is a "big concern" to the United States.

U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman said during his November 17 visit -- viewed as a gesture of support for RFE/RL and VOA -- that "I'm here because we as Americans believe that freedom of the press [and] transparency absolutely critical ingredient to a successful and strong democratic system.

"We just think the principles of free media in any free society and democracy are absolutely critical for strength and well-being," Huntsman said. "Freedom of speech is a part of that. That's why we in the embassy care about the issue. That's why we're going to follow the work that is going on in the Duma and the legislation that is being drafted very, very carefully. Because we're concerned about it."

Russia's State Duma on November 15 passed legislation that would allow for the designation of foreign media organizations in the country as “foreign agents” and require them to declare full details about their funding, finances, and staffing. It still requires an upper-house vote and the signature of President Vladimir Putin.

ALSO READ: Amnesty Calls Russian Legislation On Foreign Media 'Serious Blow' To Journalists

Huntsman said that despite Moscow's characterization of the legislation as a response to actions against the state-controlled RT network in the United States, the Russia legislation "isn't reciprocal at all."

Huntsman said a move by Washington to require RT to release financial information about its operations in the United States was meant to ensure "transparency."

"That's far different from designating somebody a foreign agent and effectively making it virtually impossible for them to operate," he said. "It isn't similar at all to what we are doing under FARA -- it's a reach beyond."

Watching 'Carefully'

In Moscow, the U.S. Embassy cautioned Russia against using the legislation as a tool to limit media freedom.

Embassy spokeswoman Maria Olson said on November 16 that Washington is watching "carefully to see whether it is passed and how it is implemented."

Russian legislators characterize the legislation as a tit-for-tat response to Washington's recent requirement that RT's American contractor register and disclose financial information under a long-standing U.S. law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Olson said the U.S. law is aimed only at making information public about the foreign sponsorship behind organizations seeking to influence U.S. political debate and does not otherwise restrict what registrants say or do.

"As we have told our Russian interlocutors, FARA promotes transparency without restricting or limiting expression," Olson said.

"FARA does not limit publishing of materials. It only requires registration, labeling, and record-keeping. Some governments have asserted FARA is being used as a tool to restrict political freedom. These assertions are completely erroneous," she said.

Media freedom and human rights groups have criticized both the Russian legislation and the U.S. requirement for RT to register under FARA.

Russia's Justice Ministry has published a list on its website confirming that its first targets under the law may be nine media outlets connected with RFE/RL and VOA.

The U.S.-funded outlets previously were warned by the ministry that they might be affected by the legislation.

Coming just two days after RT's U.S. contractor registered as a "foreign agent," Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it is "alarmed by Russia's quid pro quo response" to Washington.

“We condemn this eye-for-an-eye response, as media freedom will be its only victim," said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

"It is highly regrettable that the U.S. authorities started this. Combating propaganda is one of our era’s imperatives, but it is not the job of governments to define what is legitimate journalism,” he said.

'Draconian Provisions'

The group said the Russian legislation would apply the same "draconian provisions" Russia has imposed on foreign nonprofit groups since 2012 on foreign media, including putting the "ignominious foreign-agent label" on everything they publish or broadcast.

But the media law is vaguer than the 2012 law in giving Russian authorities a weapon they potentially could use against media out of favor with the Kremlin, it said.

“The law’s extremely vague provisions open the way to selective, arbitrary, and highly political application and, at a time of unprecedented pressure on the media, are liable to make it even harder for Russian citizens to get access to freely reported news,” Bihr said.

"One can only speculate as to its first targets, which could include such leading public broadcasters as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the BBC, and Deutsche Welle. Russian exile media may also be targeted," he said.

INFOGRAPHIC: How Russia Has Implemented Its 'Foreign Agent' Law (click to view)

The Russian legislation is "a full-throttle attack on media freedom," Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.

"This legislation is tailor-made to be selectively and politically enforced, and to silence voices they do not want Russian people to hear," Williamson said.

Warning Letters

On November 15, shortly after the Duma approved the legislation, Russia's Justice Ministry sent warning letters to RFE/RL’s Russian Service and Tatar-Bashkir Service, as well as to its Idel.realii and Sibir.realii, Russian-language websites that focus on news from Russia’s central Volga region and Siberia.

Also receiving warnings were Current Time TV, a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, and RFE/RL's Krym.Realii website, which focuses on news from the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia occupied and seized in 2014.

The letters did not make any specific threats, except to note that the news operations might face restrictions under the new law.

In a November 15 statement, RFE/RL said the "situation regarding Russian media in the U.S. and U.S. media in Russia remains vastly unequal."

"RT and Sputnik distribute freely in the U.S., whereas RFE/RL has lost its broadcast affiliates in Russia due to administrative pressures, and has no access to cable," it said. "RFE/RL reporters are subject to harassment and even physical attack in Russia."

"RFE/RL's job is to provide accurate and objective journalism to our Russian-speaking audiences worldwide, including in Russia," RFE/RL's statement said. "We look forward to continuing our work."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP


  • NPR: Russia's 'Foreign Agent' Law Targets Journalists, Activists, Even Ordinary Citizens (July 31, 2021)
  • The Washington Post | Josh Rogin, "Biden should tell Putin to stop harassing U.S. news organizations in Russia" (June 15, 2021)
  • The Atlantic, "The Cost of Trump After Trump" (June 15, 2021)
  • NPR, "5 Things To Watch At The Biden-Putin Summit" (June 14, 2021)
  • American Purpose, "Defending Journalists against Gangsters" (June 14, 2021)
  • The Washington Post | Editorial: "Biden’s test in Europe: Drawing red lines with Putin and Erdogan" (June 12, 2021)
  • The Washington Post | Sen. Jim Risch: "Biden wants Russia’s cooperation. But Putin thrives on chaos." (June 11, 2021)
  • Newsweek | Ilan Berman, "Four Priorities For The Biden-Putin Summit" (June 10, 2021)
  • European Parliament | Resolution, "The listing of German NGOs as 'undesirable organisations' by Russia and the detention of Andrei Pivovarov" (June 10, 2021)
  • U.S. Mission to the OSCE, "On Shrinking Space for Civil Society in Russia" (June 10, 2021)
  • Novaya Gazeta, "«Эвакуация» «Свободы». 30 лет спустя" (June 8, 2021)
  • Voice of America, "Russia Using Foreign Agent Law to Attack Journalism, Media Say" (June 10, 2021)
  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee | Hearing: “U.S. Policy on Belarus” (June 8, 2021)
  • The Dispatch, "How Moscow Is Threatening Radio Free Europe and the Remnants of the Independent Press" (Jun 1, 2021)
  • Columbia Journalism Review | Joel Simon, "Repression and Reciprocity in Russia" (May 25, 2021)
  • The Washington Post editorial, "Russia’s attack on U.S. media has become a test case" (May 21, 2021)
  • The New York Times, Kremlin Escalates Fight With U.S.-Funded Journalists, Officials Say (May 20, 2021)
  • Axios World, "Radio Free Europe fights to continue operations in Russia" (May 20, 2021)
  • NPR, "Russia Cracks Down On U.S. Broadcaster RFE/RL" (May 15, 2021)
  • AP, "Russian bailiffs show up at US broadcaster’s office" (May 14, 2021)
  • Reuters, "Russia freezes Moscow bank accounts of U.S. broadcaster RFE/RL" (May 14, 2021)
  • Deutsche Welle, "Russia freezes bank accounts of US broadcaster RFE/RL" (May 15, 2021)
  • Moscow Times, "Moscow Bailiffs Visit RFE/RL Newsroom Over ‘Foreign Agent’ Fines" (May 14, 2021)
  • International Press Institute, "Media face financial ruin under Russian 'foreign agent' law" (May 10, 2021)
  • The Washington Post editorial, "The ominous lessons Putin is learning from Xi Jinping" (May 7, 2021)
  • The Guardian, "Kremlin bears down on Moscow bureau of US-funded radio station" (May 5, 2021)
  • The Washington Examiner, opinion by Ted Lipien on Russia's campaign against RFE/RL (May 3, 2021)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentions RFE/RL in World Press Freedom Day statement (May 2, 2021)
  • U.S. State Department spokesman on RFE/RL in Russia (Apr 29, 2021)
  • U.S. Mission to OSCE on RFE/RL in Russia (Apr 29, 2021)
  • The Washington Post editorial, on RFE/RL, Meduza and the "foreign agent" law (Apr 26, 2021)
  • The Power Vertical podcast - RFE/RL's Jamie Fly and Kiryl Sukhotski on "“Truth, Lies, And Foreign Agents: The Kremlin’s War On RFE/RL"
  • The Atlantic's Anne Applebaum on Putin's rationale for forcing RFE/RL out of Russia (Apr 22, 2021)
  • AP on RFE/RL's petition for "interim measures" at the ECtHR (Apr 16, 2021)
  • Reuters on RFE/RL's petition for "interim measures" at the ECtHR (Apr 16, 2021)
  • AFP on RFE/RL's petition for "interim measures" at the ECtHR (Apr 16, 2021)
  • AlJazeera on RFE/RL's petition for "interim measures" at the ECtHR (Apr 16, 2021)
  • Foreign Podicy podcast (FDD) - RFE/RL's Jamie Fly and Andrey Shary on "Putin vs. The Press" (Apr 10, 2021)
  • Reuters on Russia's pressure on RFE/RL (Apr 7, 2021)
  • AFP (via The Moscow Times) on Russia's pressure on RFE/RL (Apr 7, 2021)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, following meeting with USAGM Acting CEO Kelu Chao, on RFE/RL in Russia (Apr 6, 2021)
  • U.S, Agency For Global Media, following meeting with Secretary of State Blinken, on RFE/RL in Russia (Apr 6, 2021)
  • The Washington Post writes about the "foreign agent" law and its impact on Russian NGO's and RFE/RL (Apr 3, 2021)
  • U.S. Mission to OSCE on RFE/RL in Russia (Mar 18, 2021)
  • EU Mission to OSCE on RFE/RL in Russia (Mar 18, 2021)
  • Reporters Without Borders on RFE/RL in Russia (Mar 16, 2021)
  • U.S. Senators on RFE/RL in Russia (Mar 12, 2021)
  • U.S. State Department spokesman on RFE/RL in Russia (Mar 3, 2021)
  • The Washington Post editorializes about RFE/RL in Russia (Feb 12, 2021)
  • The New York Times, "Russia Pushes U.S.-Funded News Outlet Toward Exit" (Jan 21, 2021)
  • U.S. Members of Congress on RFE/RL in Russia (Jan 21, 2021)​
  • Committee to Protect Journalists on RFE/RL and Russia's expanded "foreign agent" law (Jan 14, 2021)