Russian Duma adopts amendments on foreign agents in media

Russian Duma adopts amendments on foreign agents in media
The State Duma assimilated overseas media to foreign agents

The deputies were unanimous in supporting the bill that equates overseas media with foreign agents. The law should be passed by the Federation Council in a week.

State Duma deputies finally adopted the amendments that equate overseas media with foreign agents at a meeting on Wednesday, November 15. They were backed by 414 parliamentarians, that is, unanimously, according to RBC.

Earlier on the same day, the deputies approved the changes in the second reading, also unanimously. "We have not had such unanimity for a long time," said Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin. The leaders of all the Duma factions, the heads of several committees and Volodin personally introduced the amendment the day before.

Leonid Levin, the Chairperson of the State Duma Information Policy Committee (A Fair Russia Party) said the amendment was an "exceptional mirror measure" caused by US actions against the TV channel Russia Today-America. According to Levin, the amendment will be directed primarily against the American media, but it could also touch the media of other countries should there be any "hostile acts." Levin expressed hope that "the law will only be applied once."

Deputy Speaker Petr Tolstoy (United Russia) said: "none of us wanted to take this decision, and it is not going to affect the freedom of speech [in Russia]". He also stressed that the bill was adopted exclusively "against those countries that violate freedom of actions of Russian journalists."

According to the new law, foreign media are defined as companies that "distribute materials in the printed, audio, audio-visual and other forms to an unlimited number of persons" and receive "monetary funds or property from foreign states, their state bodies, international and foreign organizations, foreign citizens or from Russian legal entities receiving funds from said sources. "

As noted in the amendments adopted, they should be subject to the same legislative norms that apply to non-profit organizations dubbed foreign agents. As previously noted by the co-author of the amendments, Deputy Speaker Petr Tolstoy (United Russia), the Ministry of Justice would maintain the list of the foreign agents.

Under the law adopted in 2012, foreign agents must register with the Ministry of Justice and indicate their status in all of their publications. Their financial statements are subject to mandatory audit, and they must report on their activities to the authorities. Later, the Ministry of Justice was given the right to forcibly include non-profit organizations in the register of foreign agents. In accordance with the Code of Administrative Offenses, foreign agents face a fine of up to 300.000 rubles ($5.000) for failure to provide information. In addition, under the law on non-profit organizations, it is possible to close a branch of a foreign non-profit organization that fails to provide all the information required by the Ministry of Justice in a timely manner. The court makes a final judgment on this.

Among the informal implications of the new law, Ilya Shumanov, deputy general director of Transparency International - Russia, named reluctance of authorities and businesses to interact with foreign agents and loss of potential advertisers. In addition, foreign agents face reputational costs associated with the term itself, audience outflow, loss of state grants and subsidies, the expert believes. In Shumanov’s opinion, the vague wording in the law allows any foreign media get into the list of foreign agents should it be in the interest of the authorities.

The amendments are going to be approved by the Federation Council November 22, after which the president will sign them. The law will come into force immediately.

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