On Friday, one day before Russia’s annual Day of Journalists, a new bill that would allow the government to designate media outlets, journalists, bloggers and social media users as ‘foreign agents’ passed in the first of three readings in the country’s lower house of parliament. The bill would not censor the content but, naturally, it will have a chilling effect on free speech nonetheless.
The bill was voted for by 333 deputies, with one abstention and one lawmaker voting against. So, it is likely that the bill will become law. If it does, those who are designated ‘foreign media’ will be required to label their content as coming from a foreign agent media. Those who share such content, will also be required to disclose that it came from a foreign agent. Pyotr Tolstoi, a deputy Duma speaker from the ruling United Russia party, clarified that the bill will reach as far as “all information sources, from television channels and print media to social media users of medical or cooking websites,” Tolstoi said.
The bill would also require media outlets designated as foreign agents to set up Russian operational companies. Violators’ websites will be blocked in Russia. Following tensions between Russia and the United States over Ukraine and alleged Russian interference in U.S. elections, the Russian Justice Ministry declared Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and seven affiliated news services as foreign agents on December 5,