Experts in the USA: the law on natural persons-foreign agents hits Russians first of all

According to media professionals and human rights activists, people’s desire to receive reliable information cannot be limited.

Experts in the USA: the law on natural persons-foreign agents hits Russians first of all

On December 2, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing individuals to be labeled a “foreign agent” in Russia. According to the new rules, if a Russian decides to publish on his page in a social network a message from a media recognized in the country as an “foreign agent”, then he himself can easily get this stigma. Russian employees and authors of such media now have a great chance to be the first to receive this status..
Let us remind you that today 10 media outlets in Russia are recognized as “foreign agents” – Voice of America, Idel.Realii, Kavkaz.Realii, Krym.Realii, Tatar-Bashkir service of Radio Liberty (Azatliq Radiosi), Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Siberia.Realii, Faktograf, Sever.Realii, as well as the TV channel Nastoye Vremya.
Many international organizations reacted with dismay to this decision of the Russian authorities. In particular, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, in an official statement published on December 3, stressed that “this law imposes a significant administrative burden on both the individuals affected and media organizations, and introduces disproportionately restrictive measures.” Harlem Desir called the new rules “dangerous regulatory practice that narrows the space for freedom of expression”.
In addition, on Tuesday, the State Duma passed a law in the second reading punishing large fines and even administrative arrest of those who do not comply with the requirements of the Russian authorities to “foreign agents.”.
David Ensor: The actions of the Russian authorities are not a “symmetrical response”
David Ensor, Director of the Media and National Security Project at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Policy, in an interview with the Russian service of the Voice of America, said: “This decision of the Russian State Duma and President Vladimir Putin is another regrettable and negative step aimed at restricting freedom words in Russia. The Russians who would like to have access to information from various journalistic sources will suffer the most from this step. “.
Ensor, who served as director of Voice of America from 2011 to 2015, considers the arguments of official Moscow, which advocate the need for such measures, unconvincing: “I saw reports that Russian officials call this a“ symmetrical response ”to the demand of the US authorities to the Russian state television channel RT to register its American representative as a “foreign agent” in accordance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). But this is not so, and this solution is not “symmetrical”, as it is an attempt to invade the lives of individual reporters, and make their work difficult, if not impossible “.
“In the course of my current work at George Washington University, I have been contacted by a variety of journalists from Russia working in Washington, and here no one orders them to register as“ foreign agents ”. So it’s not symmetrical, and it’s just unreasonable, ”says the expert..

Experts in the USA: the law on natural persons-foreign agents hits Russians first of all

David Ensor reminds that the media he headed is not propaganda: “The important thing about VOA is that although it is funded by the US government, it is not a mouthpiece for the authorities and remains an independent journalistic resource. The governing document of VOA is the Charter signed in 1976 by President Gerald Ford, according to which the independence of VOA journalism is enshrined in law. The Charter itself states that the goals of the Voice of America are accuracy, objectivity and comprehensive information of the audience. “.
“When I was the director of VOA, the evidence I saw showed that VOA’s honest coverage of issues within the United States — sometimes negative stories about our own country — had our largest audiences abroad. In those media in Russia, which are financed by the authorities, there are very few materials about Russian problems proper, such things are rare there. The fact that Voice of America provides such materials makes it a real conduit for independent journalism, “says the former director of Voice of America..

Experts in the USA: the law on natural persons-foreign agents hits Russians first of all

Mark Behrendt: the request for reliable information is in human nature
Director for Europe and Eurasia of the human rights organization Freedom House Mark Berendt notes in his commentary to Voice of America that the adopted law concerns not only American media: “We should not view this decision as affecting only Voice of America or Radio Liberty – it is an attack on media freedom in Russia across the entire spectrum. The fact that now individual citizens can be recognized as “foreign agents” makes even the original law on “foreign agents” ridiculous – because it clearly shows that all these measures have nothing to do with concern for Russia’s national security, as it was said, but are aimed solely to restrict freedom of information in the country “.

Обзор доклада о правах человека Госдепа США

Mark Berendt draws attention to the intimidating effect of such measures: “Every time fines or other penalties are imposed for disseminating information, it hits journalists, it intimidates those who disseminate information and leads to self-censorship.”.
The human rights activist is sure that Russian citizens should protest against such actions of the authorities: “Russians should first of all react to these restrictions themselves, because such measures negatively affect society as a whole – it needs information, especially one that can be trusted. We from abroad can, of course, comment on such decisions, say that they do not meet international standards of freedom of speech, and Russia must comply with the international agreements to which it has signed. But in the end, Russian society itself should be interested in a system that does not restrict civil liberties. “.
In this case, Mark Berendt considers the possibilities of foreign influence on Moscow to be limited: “In this situation, the US authorities, in general, cannot do much. Year after year, our organization has defined Russia as an undemocratic country, and in this sense it has nowhere to go down in terms of parameters in the ratings of democracy. But, of course, this step will further reduce its position “.
Mark Berendt, commenting on the possible adoption of a law on fines and arrests of “foreign agents” in Russia, says that this cannot limit people’s desire to know the real picture of events: “Oddly enough, the Russian authorities are still worried about what they think of them in the world, it is important for Mr Putin that they write about him. Things, of course, can go even worse – remember how in that joke about a pessimist and an optimist, when the first one says that it can’t get any worse, and the second one answers: “How can it be!” But if, as in Soviet times, propaganda becomes more and more one-sided and fierce, then there will be a stronger demand for reliable information, such is human nature. “.

  • Danila Galperovich

    Reporter for the Russian Service «Voices of America» in Moscow. Collaborates with «Voice of America» since 2012. For a long time he worked as a correspondent and presenter of programs in the Russian service of the BBC and «Radio Liberty». Specialization – international relations, politics and legislation, human rights.


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