There’s been another attack on journalism, and while that’s not much of a surprise, given the downward fall of the profession, in this instance Putin is pulling the reins on any entity or writer that casts the Kremlin in a bad light. The Russian president has labeled certain media organizations and individuals that are involved in politics or who receive funds from abroad for their work as “foreign agents.” Those named will have those damning words blazed across their websites and media publications, suggesting that they are not to be trusted. Coming just a short time after Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg informed his media outlet not to run stories on himself or other contenders, this could signal a dark path for America.
The foreign agents label has been used, dating back to 2012, to identify non-governmental organizations, charities, and civil society groups that receive foreign funding while participating in political activity in Russia. In 2017, the original media bill was introduced in response to the United States requiring the Russia-backed broadcaster RT (formerly Russia Today) to register as a foreign agent. Now, the bill has been amended to include more individuals and organizations, requiring them to label themselves and their works as foreign agents. Those identified also must submit paperwork to the government or face fines.
“Foreign agent” is a Soviet-era phrase, a term of abuse for political dissidents. Alexei Venediktov, the editor of Echo of Moscow radio station, said this move made by Putin on Dec. 2 was more an attempt to control protesters. He cited this summer’s demonstrations, which were the largest in years and prompted by what many believed was the state’s heightened control over the elections.
In an interview, Venediktov said:
“This is the story of a selective attack for total fear and to create obstacles for protesters, above all the media, which report on protests, using all available information. This is yet another tool, it is clear, understood, demonstrated and brazen.”
Last week, more than 60 activists, writers, and journalists asked Putin not to sign the law. An open letter stated:
“’Foreign agent’ is a persistent phrase with a sharply negative charger. The label of foreign agent discredits a person in the eyes of his fellow citizens and disparages his dignity despite the fact that he has done nothing wrong or illegal and did not carry out the will of any foreign employers.”
In 2015, Memorial, a chronicler of human rights abuses, was listed as a foreign agent by Russia’s justice ministry. The register of foreign agent media currently has 10 entries, all of them with ties to either Voice of America, which gets funds from the United States, or Radio Free Europe. Alexei Navalny, an anti-Putin campaigner, also has been declared a “foreign agent” by the government.
Putin’s kibosh on reporters and bloggers may not seem like big news, or may be overlooked because, well, it’s the Kremlin. But a close observation of our “land of the free” might reveal that America’s free press has lost its integrity. When some television news organizations refused to air the State of the Union Address because they don’t like the current president, that speaks volumes on the direction our country is heading. Just in the last few days, a news source has declared that it will not investigate a candidate because he is the boss. That’s Bloomberg News and Mike Bloomberg.
Is it really a stretch to imagine that America could soon follow the Kremlin and take another constitutional right from its citizens?
Read more from Kelli Ballard.
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