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Moscow Ramps Up Pressure on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

FILE - A view shows the newsroom of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcaster in Moscow, Russia, April 6, 2021.
FILE - A view shows the newsroom of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcaster in Moscow, Russia, April 6, 2021.

A Moscow court has declared as bankrupt the company that handles the Russian operations of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The order on Monday came after the broadcaster refused to pay fines totaling more than $14 million for failure to comply with Russia’s foreign agent law.

Russia has designated RFE/RL a foreign agent along with more than 30 of the network’s journalists. Since last year’s invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin has also blocked access to foreign media sites including RFE/RL and VOA. Both broadcasters are independent entities under the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM).

“The Kremlin has now bankrupted our Russian entity, blocked our websites, and designated journalists as foreign agents, but our audience inside Russia continues to grow,” RFE/RL quoted its president and CEO, Jamie Fly, as saying Monday.

Russians “are seeking independent sources of information. This latest assault on our Russian entity will do nothing to change that fact,” Fly said.

RFE/RL likens law to tool of censorship

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement that declaring an independent news network as bankrupt “demonstrates how the country’s legislation on so-called ‘foreign agents’ has been used to economically strangle a media outlet.”

RFE/RL has described the foreign agent law as a tool of political censorship. It has challenged Moscow’s actions at the European Court of Human Rights.

Russia’s foreign agent law was expanded to include media after a 2017 U.S. order compelled Kremlin-backed media operating in America to register with the Department of Justice’s Foreign Agent Registration Act, also known as FARA.

Under FARA, companies controlled by foreign governments must report activities, receipts and "informational material."

But unlike FARA, Russia's regulations require media outlets registered as foreign agents to mark all content as being created by an outlet that "performs the function of a foreign agent."

Individuals designated as foreign agents must also file detailed regular reports accounting for any money deposited in their account.

Russia has a dire record for media freedom and has stepped up repressive laws and policies since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) notes that since the start of the war, “almost all independent media have been banned, blocked and/or declared ‘foreign agents.’ All others are subject to military censorship.”

On RSF's ranking of countries that have the best media environment, Russia placed 155th out of 180.

Media shares news via satellite

With access to credible news obstructed in Russia, USAGM has stepped up efforts to keep news flowing.

In March, the media agency announced plans to expand satellite distribution of the Russian-language news show "Current Time," which is directed at audiences in Russia and neighboring countries.

“There is a growing appetite across Europe for a reliable and fact-based Russian-language alternative to Kremlin-controlled information,” USAGM head Amanda Bennett said in a statement.

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