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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: October 7, 2015

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
State Duma Drafts Law Requiring Russian Media Companies to Report Foreign Grants

After the infamous "foreign agents" law that has hindered or closed more than 60 non-government organizations, the State Duma has turned its sights on the media and is now drafting a law regulating media companies that are financed from abroad, Kommersant reports.

Kommersant spoke to the drafters of the law who are Aleksandr Yushchenko from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation; Vadim Dengin of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia; and Vadim Kharlov of Just Russia who said the draft law would amend the Code of Administrative Offenses and would provide for a fine on all media outlets that receive funding from abroad but fail to report it. Repeat offenders would face closure.

The drafters believe the law will "increase the level of information security" in the country and plan to discuss the legislation in detail with the experts' community.

Under the law, all media outlets must report to Roskomnadzor, the state media regulation body within 30 days if they have sources of funding abroad. Otherwise, they will face fines from 30,000 to 50,000 rubles ($403 to $806) and ultimately closure if they fail to comply with the requirement.

The explanatory introduction to the law states as follows:

"Under condition when pressure on Russia media is increasing in a number of countries, attempts are made with the help of economic influence, actions of repressive bodies and so called 'decisions of judicial bodies' to limit or end the work of Russian media on the territory of those countries. Along with this, attempts are made to directly influence the Russian information space with the purpose of biased informing and the creation of a distorted picture of political reality through foreign grants to Russia media."

The reference to "judicial decisions" is likely to a series of actions taken recently to freeze Russian assets abroad in relation to the Yukos case, which included Russian state media companies in France and the United Kingdom.

The Russian law does not intend to affect foreign investments from the founders of the media organization or as payment for the placement of advertising, say the drafters. The law will also not affect popular blogs equated with the media forced to register with Roskomnadzor if they have more than 3,000 readers, and will not affect foreign media in Russia.

Dengin from Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia was also the author of a 2014 law limiting the participation of foreign shareholders in media companies to 20%.  He says the new law is a logical extension as a way that some media got around the 20% restriction was to use a franchise model.

"Let's admit it: an information war is under way. We are told: your government media praise the president and premier. Alright, let's see who is ordering your tune."

Dengin said he knew of cases of massive purchase of regional and city newspapers by foreigners.

"There is a lot of negativity around Russia now. I'm not against objective coverage but when the situation is deliberately whipped up -- that's bad. Information is not just a commodity, it's a weapon and we must take that into account under modern conditions. Go ahead and write article, film reports, no one is banning you, but show your sources of funding. That's honest."

He believes foreign ads should be excluded because the ad contracts can be tracked and the amounts known. He does not think the new law will affect freedom or speech or service as a kind of censorship.

Leonid Levin, chairman of the Duma's information committee welcomed the draft law, reported.

"Today we are seeing various attempts by foreign states to influence the information picture of our country not only from without but from within. Grants are given to the media to cover events in Russia."

He denied that the law would create a "blacklist" or that it was meant to curtail opposition publications.

He also said the law wouldn't affect advisers or paid subscribers from abroad, such as for TV Rain.

By not seeming to affect foreign investors in media but attacking foreign grants, the law is likely to affect smaller outlets that have foreign support for special projects such as investigative reporting.

The law restricting foreign ownership to 20% already affected Vedomosti and Moscow Times, some of whose foreign investors reduced their stakes, selling them to a Russian businessman, Demyan Kudryavtsev.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick