On March 17, the lower part of Russia’s parliament, the Duma, approved an investigation into whether U.S. media in Moscow are in compliance with the law. The Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, Technologies, and Communications will conduct the investigation, specifically focusing on the Russian-based outlets of CNN, VOA, and Radio Svboda, RFE/RL’s Russian radio station. Other unspecified media outlets will also be subject to examination.
The motion was introduced by Konstantin Zatulin, a member of Putin’s United Russia party, which is currently in the majority. Zatulin claims that the motion is in retaliation for the “repressive” measure U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen introduced against the Russian-funded English language media outlet RT. Shaheen’s bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate RT for violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires all parties working for a foreign government in a political dimension to register with the Justice Department. The measure would also delve deeper into Russia’s influence on the 2016 U.S. election. Both RT and the Kremlin have strongly denied such allegations, claiming that although RT is funded by the Russian government, it is editorially independent.
Like Shaheen’s bill, Zatulin’s bill targets media outlets with funding from foreign states, with the noted exception of CNN, a privately-owned company. Both VOA and RFE/RL are overseen by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, but while VOA is a federal entity, RFE/RL is a private non-profit with funding from Congress. CNN is a private company, but has become a target of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently for their allegedly biased portrayal of Russian intervention in the 2016 U.S. election, as well as for examining ties between the Trump administration and Russian officials. CNN has even been featured on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ debunking page as an example of “false information about Russia.”
In a press statement on March 10, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Maria Zakharova repeated Russian sentiments of being unfairly targeted by the U.S. and other international media in regards to their role in spreading “fake news.”
Zatulin’s bill is a direct response to the U.S. media probe and takes advantage of the Russian government’s comprehensive media laws. Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law an amendment that limited foreign ownership of any Russian mass media outlet to no more than 20 percent of shares. Laws like this are intended to minimize non-Russian influence and may be used in the upcoming investigation to incriminate the targeted outlets.