Scrap ‘foreign agent’ laws – Nobel laureate
A Russian journalist who was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize has called for the abolition of so-called “foreign agent” laws in both his country and the US, saying that the rules are harmful to the free press.
Dmitry Muratov, the editor-in-chief of liberal Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, explained his position on Wednesday at the Summit for Democracy, a virtual meeting hosted by the US. “In our country, many journalists are labeled ‘foreign agents,’ which in Russia comes across as ‘enemies of the people,’” he said. “Our government cites the fact that America has a similar law, and that this law dates from the period of the battle with Nazism, and then with communism. Let’s try, in different countries, to rid ourselves of this shameful brand, which is becoming fatal to our profession.”
It is becoming more and more difficult for journalists to reach readers, Muratov said, because it is a dangerous profession and because, in his words, “tech giants have come under the influence of governments, and many of them are editing content on government orders, unconstitutionally.”
He called for those in attendance at the summit, designed to foster democratic values across the world, to pay attention to this global challenge. He also connected the murder of journalists with a purported deficit in democracy and with the refusal to recognize human rights. Fifteen years ago, he reminded listeners, Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist with his newspaper, was killed, and the people who ordered her murder have still not been apprehended.
He went on to claim that journalism is vital for fighting corruption, saying, “we know where they’re hiding money, how it turns into palaces and yachts. But what we really want is for investigative journalists’ assistance to bring about the return of this money to people who need our help.”
In 2017, the US designated Russian networks RT America and Sputnik as foreign agents, requiring them to disclose financial information. The Kremlin responded by listing American-run media RFE/RL as a foreign agent and fined the broadcaster for violating Russian law.
In February this year, lawmakers in Moscow voted through new restrictions and fines for organizations that they said exist to do the work of foreign states in Russia, and for media connected with those organizations. In August, nearly a dozen Russian media outlets published an open letter condemning the laws, decrying what they called “the persecution of independent journalism in this country.”
Russia’s “foreign agents” have complained that the rules they face are now far more stringent than those applied in the US.
In November, however, a top Moscow lawmaker indicated that they could be made even stricter, saying, “we have proposals for both tightening these norms and expanding their usage, as well as expanding the application of their usage.”