By Asish Samson
Under pressure from the Department of Justice, RT’s—formerly Russia Today—American subsidiary, RT America, registered as foreign agents on November 13. Russia hadn’t taken kindly to the move, citing violations of press freedom and freedom speech and promised retaliation which finally materialized with a list of nine outlets who have to similarly register as foreign agents in Russia.
RT is an international television network and billed as an “autonomous non-profit organization.” Founded by the Russian news agency, RIA Novosti, it is part of a larger PR effort to improve Russia’s image aboard, and present Russian perspective to the viewers. A brainchild of former media minister, Mikhail Lesin and president Putin’s spokesperson, Aleskei Gromov, the network is funded by the Russia’s federal budget via Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation.
Since its inception in 2005, however, they’ve been faced with criticism and labeled as a naked Russian propaganda machine, and attract regular attention from regulatory agencies like the UK’s media regulator, Ofcom, for “materially misleading” content. The Congress rescinded their accreditation for their alleged role in interfering the 2016 presidential elections. Under the WW2-era Foreign Agents Registration Act, the network must periodically disclose finances and activities sponsored by foreign governments and organizations.
In response, Russia’s lower house of parliament barred Voice of America and Radio Liberty, both US-funded media outlets, from its premises following a 413-1 vote in favor of the ban. The list of outlets targeted in retaliation was published by the Russian Ministry of Justice.
“We didn’t start this theater of the absurd,” said Maria Zakharova, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, “but we have to respond to it.”