US asks Russia’s RT broadcaster to register as ‘foreign agent’

WASHINGTON — The US Department of Justice has asked Russian broadcaster RT to register its American operations as a “foreign agent,” putting fresh pressure on a major media group that Washington regards as Moscow’s propaganda arm.

RT said late Monday that the company that supplies all the services for its RT America channel was told by the Department of Justice in a letter that it is obligated to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, an act aimed at lobbyists and lawyers representing foreign political interests.

RT has received the Justice Department letter, the broadcaster’s spokeswoman Anna Belkina confirmed Tuesday.

RT is “consulting with our lawyers and are reviewing the request,” she told AFP in an email.

On its website, RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan condemned the move as part of a US “war” on Russian media.

“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.

The Moscow-based broadcaster has become a focus of the investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

RT has been singled out for its links to US President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn, the former US defense intelligence chief, was paid tens of thousands of dollars in December 2015 to attend an RT anniversary gala where he sat with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In January, a US intelligence community report on Russian election interference labelled RT “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.”

Originally written in 1938 to blunt Nazi propaganda on the eve of World War II, the Foreign Agents Registration Act has been used to shed light on who in Washington might be working for foreign governments.

FARA specifically exempts US and foreign news organizations, and the Justice Department focus on the company that supplies services for RT might be a way around that stipulation.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the issue.

The move comes as the US government fights what it alleges is a barrage of “fake” news from Russian media and online outlets aimed at interfering in US domestic politics.

According to reports, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating Sputnik, a part of Russian news group RIA that is now operating a radio station in Washington.

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