The editor-in-chief of Russian news outlet Russia Today said on Thursday that the outlet will register as a foreign agent in the US after pressure from the Justice Department.
Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of both RT and the Russian outlet Sputnik, said that the company still considers the DOJ’s demand crazy and “illegal.”
“But we are forced to submit,” Simonyan told another Russian news agency. She added that the FARA registration will make “routine journalistic work impossible.”
US intelligence agencies that examined Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election concluded in a report published in January that RT served as a propaganda arm of the Kremlin and had facilitated a fake-news campaign aimed at sowing chaos and discrediting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
The DOJ asked a company that supplies services to the US affiliate of RT to register as a foreign agent in September.
Simonyan responded at the time with a scathing statement.
“The war the US establishment wages with our journalists is dedicated to all the starry-eyed idealists who still believe in freedom of speech. Those who invented it, have buried it,” she said.
It is unclear which company the DOJ set its sights on. RT works with RTTV America and RTTV Studios, both of which are based in Washington, DC, according to an Atlantic Council report published last week.
“The DOJ wouldn’t send this letter, particularly to a media outlet, unless they had sufficient intelligence to show that these outlets met the FARA standard — essentially, that they were being directed and controlled by a foreign government,” Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent, told Business Insider in a previous interview.
“Shedding sunlight on all of their activities is really what neutralizes them,” Rangappa added. “If a foreign intelligence service is trying to disseminate propaganda, it will only work if people don’t know anything about the source of the information. If they’re registered as foreign agents, it’s basically saying they’re not real journalists.”
The news came on the heels of a Yahoo News report that the FBI has been investigating whether the state-owned Sputnik News — also helmed by Simonyan — is a propaganda arm of the Kremlin and therefore operating in the United States in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Sputnik’s former White House correspondent, Andrew Feinberg, told Business Insider that the FBI interviewed him on September 1 about his brief, but eye-opening, time at Sputnik, which he outlined in a Politico column in August.
The FBI is now in possession of thousands of internal Sputnik emails and documents that Feinberg downloaded before he left the company and handed over earlier this month, according to Yahoo.
Sputnik’s US editor-in-chief, Mindia Gavasheli, said in a statement that he was not surprised that the FBI was investigating Sputnik “since the atmosphere of hysteria in relation to everything that belongs to Russia has been created in the country, and everything with the word ‘Russian’ is seen through the prism of spy mania.”
“We are journalists, and mostly Americans work here,” Gavasheli said. “We believe that any assumption that we are engaged in anything other than journalism is an absolute lie and fabrication.”
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