Russia: Oh yeah? Well now your news agencies are foreign agents

Last week, John wrote about a new requirement placed on Russian “news” outlet RT, requiring them to register as foreign agents working in the United States. Not to be outdone, the Russian legislature is busy pushing through a matching law which they would presumably apply to all of our media outlets. A new bill such as this has to make it through three “readings” in the Duma (the lower house of Parliament) before it can move on to the upper chamber and then Vladimir Putin’s desk. It’s already made it through two readings with an overwhelming majority voting in support. (Reuters)

Russia’s lower house of parliament gave preliminary approval on Wednesday to a law giving Moscow the power to designate foreign media operating in Russia as “foreign agents” required to disclose where they get their funding and how they spend it.

The legislation is part of the fallout from a row between Moscow and Washington over allegations that the Kremlin interfered in the U.S. presidential election last year in favor of Donald Trump.

U.S. intelligence officials accuse the Kremlin of using Russian media organizations it finances to influence U.S. voters, and this week Washington required Russian state broadcaster RT to register a U.S.-based affiliate company as a “foreign agent”.

These sort of tit-for-tat spats between countries – particularly Russia and the United States, though we’re hardly unique in that way – are nothing new. You arrest four of our spies, we arrest five of yours. You kick out some our diplomats, we do the same to you. Dragging the news agencies into it, however, seems to be a new sort of twist and one we might be worried about. I’ve yet to hear any specifics as to what RT was up to beyond pushing a bunch of Russian propaganda. And if you’re surprised by RT doing that I envy you your wide-eyed, innocent view of the world. Unless they’re doing something besides releasing their endless stream of article and videos, registering them as foreign agents might have been a bit of overkill, but I suppose we can keep an eye on them.

From the other side of the coin, I guess I can see why Russia would want to keep tabs on the Washington Post and the New York Times. Hell… I live in New York and even I want to keep an eye on them. But the point is, how far should we be going in declaring things “propaganda” these days? RT puts out a stream of dubious claims which promote the Russian agenda. The Washington Post puts out a stream of dubious claims which seek to thwart the American agenda, at least when there’s a Republican in the White House. (Okay, I kid… I kid… mostly.)

But are the worker bees at these news agencies really “foreign agents” in the classic sense of the term? Perhaps that the problem in the end. It’s 2017 and the classic sense of most everything seems to be changing.