MOSCOW: Russia on Thursday fined Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) for failing to provide its financial information to the authorities after Moscow labelled it a “foreign agent” late last year.
The Moscow Tverskoy Court fined the US-funded outlet 100,000 ($1,584), Russian agencies reported.
RFE/RL was one of nine US media outlets labelled “foreign agents” in December last year after President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing international media to be slapped with the controversial label that previously only applied to NGOs.
Media branded “foreign agents” have to present themselves as such on all paperwork and submit to intensive scrutiny of their staffing and financing.
RFE/RL’s President and CEO Thomas Kent said the move was a “sharp escalation in a series of Russian actions aimed at hamstringing the work of the company,” in comments published on the outlet’s website.
He added that the “foreign agent” label was a “danger for our staff in Russia.”
The law on foreign media was adopted in response to a move by the US State Department to force a US-based arm of the Kremlin-backed Russia Today (RT) television channel to register as a “foreign agent” in the US.
Moscow also branded seven of RFE/RL’s media affiliates and Voice of America “foreign agents”.
The media law is an extension of 2012 legislation that requires NGOs receiving funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents”.
This week Russian lawmakers drafted legislation that could also require individual reporters working for “foreign agent” media to be branded with the label.
The measure is set to be given a second reading in parliament’s lower house next week.
Journalists fear it will complicate their work and could herald a new crackdown on critical voices after Putin won re-election for a fourth term in March.
The label does not directly imply espionage, but in Russian it has negative connotations of unpatriotic behaviour.
Voice of America and Radio Free Europe began broadcasting to the Soviet Union in the 1950s, playing a key role in providing its citizens with uncensored news. —AFP