Russian legislators approve bill targeting foreign media

RT television confirmed it has registered as a foreign agent in the United States meeting a deadline from the US Department of JusticeMore

Moscow vowed to act swiftly in response to what it claims is a clampdown on Russian media in the U.S.

Russia's lower house of parliament on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill allowing the government to register worldwide media outlets as foreign agents, a swift retaliation to the US demands made to a Russian TV channel.

In comments to The Washington Post outside of the Duma hall, Pyotr Tolstoy, a former journalist and talk show host turned lawmaker who led the drafting of the legislation, said he expected the law to target a small number of news agencies at first, but could possibly grow if Russian Federation believes more of its news agencies are being pressured overseas.

Members of parliament have given contradictory statements on whether the law could apply to commercial TV network CNN.

Earlier in the day, the State Duma passed the bill in the second reading, also by a unanimous vote.

"A hybrid war has been declared against us and we are obliged to respond", Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said in parliament.

Once the amendments are passed, the "foreign agents law" will also apply to all foreign media working in Russia, as well as Russian news publications funded or in any way financially assisted from overseas.

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It now needs the approval of the upper house and President Vladimir Putin before becoming law.

Tolstoy told parliament the amendments would not be automatically enforced, but would be selectively applied by the justice ministry. Foreign media that do not register when requested can lose the right to work in Russian Federation.

"We are making it possible.to take selective retaliatory measures - that is the idea of the law, and I hope it will be enforced this way".

Amnesty International harshly criticized the new bill as an attack on media freedom. Many have been forced out of the mainstream Russian media space.

The law requests all groups that receive foreign funding and engage in vaguely defined political activities to register as foreign agents.

Russian lawmakers have unanimously passed a bill targeting foreign news outlets in retaliation to the Kremlin-run news channel RT's registration as a "foreign agent" in the United States. They will also face a similar responsibility for such NGOs for breaching this legislation.

Its passing follows RT registering with the US Justice Department following claims from US intelligence agencies that the television channel served as a Kremlin tool to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.