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Russian Lawmakers Approve New Restrictions On Foreign Media

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Russian lawmakers in the State Duma applaud after voting Wednesday to allow the government to register international media outlets as foreign agents.
Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP

Russian lawmakers in the State Duma applaud after voting Wednesday to allow the government to register international media outlets as foreign agents.

Russia's State Duma has adopted restrictions on foreign media outlets, days after the U.S. Justice Department forced the production company behind media outlet RT America to register as a foreign agent operating in the U.S.

"A total of 409 lawmakers out of 450 voted for the amendments, no one voted against them or abstained," the state-run Tass news agency reported.

Passage of the measure in the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, came days after the company behind TV channel RT America filed paperwork under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.

Announcing the registration this week, the Justice Department said, "Americans have a right to know who is acting in the United States to influence the U.S. government or public on behalf of foreign principals."

In its filing, the company said that while it gets a "substantial" amount of its money from Russia's government, it does not attempt to influence political discourse.

From Moscow, NPR's Lucian Kim reports:

"Critics say the changes could have a chilling effect on journalists working in Russia, just as similar legislation had on nongovernmental organizations.

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"The upper house of parliament is expected to give its stamp of approval next week and send the bill on to the Kremlin for President Vladimir Putin to sign."

Presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said after the bill's passage by one chamber of parliament, "Any encroachment on the freedom of Russian media abroad is not and won't be left without a strong condemnation and a tit-for-tat response of Moscow," according to Tass.

In Russia, the foreign agent label "would apply if the outlet is either registered abroad, receives foreign funding or gets paid by a Russian company that is itself financed from abroad," The Moscow Times reports.

Under the new law, Russia's media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, would be able to "immediately block websites," Tass reports.

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