The Department of Justice has ordered Russia’s U.S.-based RT news network to begin registering as Russian foreign agents under the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act. The law requires US-based agents of foreign principals to disclose financial information and activities in regular public filings overseen by a designated DOJ office. Over the years FARA has been amended to exclude bona fide news organizations. The Department of Justice order breaks a long period of unfettered access to the U.S. by foreign press agencies, many directly and indirectly financed by foreign governments.
Although RTs viewership in the United States is minuscule compared to major domestic broadcast and cable news outlets, over the years RT has made many enemies in Washington. The network’s slogan, “Question More,” and financial resources allowed it to televise stories that US networks, under the perpetual threat of loss of “access” to newsmakers, boycotts and organized pressure campaigns, cannot. Nowhere was this more evident than RT’s relentless coverage of Israel and its US lobby. RT covered Benjamin Netanyahu’s connection to the Arnon Milchan nuclear trigger smuggling ring, the diversion of weapons grade uranium from a toxic plant in Pennsylvania to Israel, and details of a massive Israeli-lobby orchestrated propaganda campaign in the United States. A FARA order could mean RT’s departure from the American scene. This could reduce the number of news packages on topics prohibited in America – located in the triple-digit channel nether-region of the cable lineup, but archived and well-viewed online with 2.2 million YouTube subscribers – to zero.
With new scrutiny of Russian activities following allegations of meddling in the U.S. electoral process, the FARA order should come as no surprise. The Department of Justice can be expected to deploy resources far in excess of the meager 9-person team working in the FARA department in order to finally “get Russia.” However, RT could attempt to use the tactics of another FARA target – the Israel lobby – to avoid registering.
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