Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 2 signed a bill that amends an existing law on media outlets deemed “foreign agents” that critics say is used to muzzle dissent, limit news plurality, and discourage the free exchange of ideas.
The new law gives authorities the power to label reporters who work for organizations officially listed as foreign agents as foreign agents themselves.
The label will be applied to individuals who collaborate with foreign media outlets and receive financial or other material support from them.
Should anything a foreign media outlet publish violate Russian regulations, “the new norms allow the Russian government to block the websites of foreign agents or legal entities established by them,” TASS reported.
Russia passed the original foreign agent law — which requires all NGOs receiving foreign funding to register — in 2012 following the biggest wave of anti-government protests since Vladimir Putin came to power. Putin blamed Western influence and money for those protests.
Critics of the law say it stigmatizes organizations with the designation and would do the same to journalists if they are labeled as foreign agents.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said on November 21 that the law “invades” the lives and security of reporters and “is reminiscent of the darkest times in Russia’s past.”
Russian officials have said the law is a “symmetrical response” after Russia’s state-funded channel RT — which U.S. authorities accuse of spreading propaganda — was required to register its U.S. operating unit under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act.