New legislative proposal in Russia could peg media as “foreign agents”

In a closed meeting on 27 June 2017, the Russian Federation Council’s Commission on Protection of National Sovereignty and Fight Against Foreign Meddling discussed a legislative proposal that will force foreign media based in Russia disseminating in Russian to disclose their financials sources.

The legislative proposal by the Russian government is a bid to counter “robust implementation of foreign projects targeted at Russian journalists”. It comprises all foreign media that publish in Russian even though they may be registered abroad and if adopted would affect thousands of media outlets. It would also entail that media receiving funding from abroad would be forced to register as “foreign agents” in line with what civil society organisations based in Russia are already compelled to do, if they are backed by foreign donors.

If the proposal is passed and foreign-funded media abstain from providing this information, the Roskomnadzor, the so-called “Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications” may be granted the authority  to block these media outlets from operating in Russia.

Gulnara Akhundova, Head of IMS’ Global Response Department, is greatly concerned about the legislative proposal:

“If the proposal materialises it means that media outlets receiving support from Western donors automatically will be branded as “foreign agents”. This would seriously harm their reputation inside Russia because the so-called traditional values and conservative views play a huge role with audiences and anti-Western propaganda is widespread. Also, the foreign agent label would make it a lot more difficult for the media outlets to do their job and produce good journalism.”

After the Russian occupation of Crimea and involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine the amount of state propaganda has increased and the press is kept on a still tighter leash. It is therefore crucial that independent media outlets on the ground can analyse and report on what is going on in Russia, Gulnara Akhundova explains.

“Support to independent media in Russia is extremely important because they constitute a necessary counter balance to the propaganda and the harsh government control, which many media in Russia are subjected to. Independent media ensures that a greater variety of sources are hear on particular matters and that content is not solely driven by a political agenda.”