Russian President Vladimir Putin
© Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law which will allow authorities to brand certain foreign media outlets as "foreign agents."

Under the new law, any media outlet operating in Russia and funded by a foreign state may be designated a foreign agent by the Justice Ministry. The bill was first introduced to the State Duma, the lower house, and adopted by MPs earlier this month.

On Wednesday, the upper house overwhelmingly supported the legislation. The new document introduces amendments to two federal laws on information and media in Russia.

Any foreign media entity "regardless of its organizational and legal form, might be considered as functioning as a foreign agent if it receives funds and/or any other assets from foreign states, foreign governmental organizations, international and foreign organizations, foreign citizens, persons without citizenship," the document stipulates. The law also covers foreign media operating through authorized persons or Russian legal entities that in turn are financed through foreign sources.

Such media will then fall under a Russian law on NGOs operating as foreign agents; they are obliged to file regular reports on their funding and activities or face legal action if they fail to do so. The changes come into force on Saturday.

The measure follows a decision by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) that forced a company servicing RT America to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Having been threatened by US authorities with legal action and freezing of the company's assets if it failed to comply, RT America met the set deadline and filed for registration as a 'foreign agent' earlier this month.

Washington's move has made Moscow and a number of international experts question freedom of speech in the US, and forced retaliatory measures from Russian authorities. Following the adoption of the draft law by the State Duma, the Justice Ministry has sent letters to a number of US-funded news outlets operating in Russia under Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, warning them of the possibility that they will need registration as foreign agents.

Comment: Sputnik reports that the Russian law is almost exactly the same as the one in the US. It also points out that since, American presence and interference in Russia has been known about for a long time, Russia took action against groups masquarading as NGO's back in 2012:
The law implies that media outlets classified as foreign agents will have to publish a notice that their materials are provided by a foreign agent, report on their activities, submit information about the composition of their management and provide expense reports. If a media outlet refuses to register as a foreign agent, it will fall under the law on "non-governmental organizations (NGOs)- foreign agents". A media outlet will be required to report once every three months on its expenditure and the sources of its funding, while every six months it has to release reports on its activities. Once a year, the Ministry of Justice or the Prosecutor's Office will conduct an audit, and if there are complaints, unscheduled inspections might take place.

Violation or failure to comply with the requirements will result in administrative or criminal liability as well as the blocking of transmitting signal or of media websites.

Meantime, the amendments do not affect the Russian media with a share of foreign participation in the capital.

In July 2012, the Russian parliament adopted a law requiring NGOs that were engaged in political activities and received funding from abroad to register as "foreign agents" and to label all their publications as such. The law went into effect in November 2012. Putin said that such measure was needed to limit direct and indirect foreign interference as well as lobbying in the country.
One can't blame Russia for monitoring foreign NGO's what with their track record in other countries politics, and even in America, see: