Russia crafting new law forcing U.S. media to register as ‘foreign agents’

Twitter in later October said on Thursday it would ban ads from RT and Sputnik, two state-sponsored Russian news outlets that the U.S. intelligence community has said tried to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. CREDIT: Pavel Golovkin/AP Photo

The Russian parliament on Friday signaled that it will force some American news outlets working there to register as foreign agents. Reuters reported that Russian lawmakers said “the move was retaliation for a demand by the U.S. Department of Justice that Kremlin-backed TV station RT register in the United States as a ‘foreign agent’, something Moscow has said it regards as an unfriendly act.”

RT is known for running conspiracy theories, accusing Hillary Clinton of being an “Illuminati candidate” and refusing to cover Russia’s crackdown on the LGBTQ community.

On Thursday, Margarita Simonya, RT’s chief editor, said that the outlet will give in to U.S. Justice Department demands that it register as a foreign agent by Monday. According to CBS, “failure to register could mean the arrest of the channel’s American director and the freezing of its accounts.”

On RT’s English language site, Simonya described the timeline as a “cannibalistic deadline,” and wrote: “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. It deprives us of fair competition with other international channels, which are not registered as foreign agents.”

On its Facebook page, the Russian embassy in the U.S. said it took the move to mean that the United States is pursuing a “path of conscious deterioration of relations,” and that it considers the registration requirement to be “a desire to eliminate the source of alternative information, an unacceptable violation of international standards of press freedom.”

Twitter has already banned advertising from RT and Sputnik, another Russian news outlet.

Russian influence in the U.S. has come under increasing scrutiny in the months following the 2016 presidential elections. It’s been revealed that Russian agents used U.S-based social media platforms to spread false information designed to help boost Donald Trump’s candidacy, and several people involved in President Trump’s campaign are being investigated by the Justice Department over possible collusion with Russia.

Russian lawmakers in the Duma are expected to carry out an initial reading of the new restriction on November 15, and have the law finalized by the end of next week.

Russia faces its own president elections in March 2018, when President Valdimir Putin is expected to win by a strong margin