Russian lawmakers submitted legal amendments Tuesday that would allow the government to register worldwide media outlets as foreign agents, a retaliatory move to a demand the USA made to a Russian TV channel.
The Russian authorities will tighten their stranglehold on press freedom in the country today by introducing a bill that designates foreign-funded news organizations as "foreign agents" and imposes onerous obligations to declare full details of their funding, finances and staffing, said Amnesty International.
The law designating media outlets as foreign agents, passed by the State Duma on Wednesday, will allow Russia's authorities to immediately and symmetrically respond to the encroachment on the freedom of Russian media overseas, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
The bill will go to the upper house and then to President Vladimir Putin for signing.
The Moscow-based broadcaster has become a focus of the investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Russian Federation has denied it interfered in last year's United States presidential election.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has harshly criticized the USA demand regarding the RT as an attack on freedom of speech and warned that Russia would retaliate.
He denied it will affect any Russian media with foreign funding.
"I would like to hope that it will only be used once and there will be no need for more retaliatory action", he added. Head of RT Margarita Simonyan said that it was a forced choice between registration and a criminal case.
According to the draft legislation, media outlets designated as foreign agents would be subject to the same rules that now apply to foreign-funded non-governmental organizations.
The label would apply if the outlet is either registered overseas, receives foreign funding or gets paid by a Russian company that is itself financed from overseas, the State Duma announced on Tuesday.
Critics of the law have said the definition of political activity is so loose that it could be used against nearly any non-governmental organization.
The move is likely to effect the Russian services of major worldwide media outlets such as the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, as well as the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Yahoo News has reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has interviewed a former Sputnik correspondent about his work at the website.
"Ultimately a lot will depend on how exactly the law is implemented and to what extent it restricts foreign media's ability to act", he said.