MOSCOW: Russia’s justice ministry named on Tuesday nine US media outlets, including Voice of America, as “foreign agents” after President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing US media to be slapped with the controversial label.

Russia said this was a retaliatory move after Kremlin-funded RT Television was registered as a “foreign agent” in the United States under official pressure.

The ministry said that US-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and seven of their media affiliates had been recognised as “carrying out the functions of a foreign agent”, in a statement posted on its website.

Putin last month signed into law hastily issued legislation allowing the measure to target media.

Voice of America and Radio Free Europe began broadcasting to the Soviet Union in the 1950s.

Both broadcasters had already been formally warned by the justice ministry that they risked recognition as “foreign agents”. The justice ministry has now formalised the move, naming them and their affiliates, including Radio Free Europe’s news outlets dedicated to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine, and the Caucasus.

They also include a television channel run jointly by Radio Free Europe and Voice of America called Current Time TV.

Speaking on Current Time TV in Russian, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s president Thomas Kent said that “as a result, the activities of our organisation can face even greater restrictions”.

“So far we have no concrete information on these restrictions,” the head of the US Congress-funded corporation said.

He stressed: “We remain committed to continuing our work in journalism in the interests of providing precise and objective information to our Russian-language audience.”

The head of the Russian upper house’s commission for the protection of state sovereignty, Andrei Klimov, said the measure would be strictly enforced but could be reversed.

“If (foreign media) try to get out of it, we will catch up with them anyway, we will force them to obey Russian law,” Klimov told Interfax news agency.

“If Washington comes to its senses and ceases pressure on Russian media, however, in that case we will also consider correcting our decisions.”

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2017

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