MPs mull over ‘foreign agent’ status for media

United Russia suggests labeling media sponsored from abroad “foreign agents”
The majority United Russia party is planning to include media outlets funded from abroad into a register of organizations considered foreign agents.

The new status could be given to such media as early as autumn, when United Russia is going to consider amendments to the law On Mass Media, reports Izvestia daily.

Foreign-funded media often interfere in politics and function as mouthpiece for foreign propaganda, United Russia’s deputies told the paper.

“Unlike non-governmental organizations, mass media calls itself the fourth branch of the government. Therefore, the society is entitled to know who sponsors certain representatives of this fourth branch and how sovereign they are,” said MP Ilya Kostunov.

The lawmakers say though they are not going to tar all foreign-funded media with the same brush. For instance, if aid from abroad accounts for 10 per cent of the budget, “it is not necessary” to declare such media outlet “a foreign agent,” United Russia Deputy Vladimir Burmatov said.

“But if the aid is over 50 per cent, it means foreign sponsors actually control editorial policy of the media outlet,” he pointed out. In this case, the organization may get the status “foreign agent” status.

State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomaryov, a member of opposition Fair Russia party, believes the initiative will only make people find ways to evade the law.

“The authors of the idea will not achieve the result they aim at,” he stated, adding that the move may set people against authorities as well as provoke animosity and conflicts.

On Friday, the State Duma approved in the final reading a bill labeling politically-active non-profit organizations funded from abroad as “foreign agents”. The upper house – the Federation Council – is scheduled to consider the draft law on Wednesday.

Since the majority of media outlets are commercial organizations, they are not affected by the new law.