The Justice Department action was quickly applauded by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a chief sponsor of a bill in Congress to strengthen Justice Department enforcement of FARA in order to curb Russian propaganda in the United States. Shaheen said she was “very encouraged” by the FBI’s inquiry into Sputnik, and, if accurate, its letter to the RT affiliate was “long overdue.”
“There’s ample evidence that RT America is coordinating with the Russian government to spread disinformation and undermine our democratic process,” Shaheen added: “We can’t allow foreign agents, particularly those working on behalf of our adversaries, to skirt our laws.”
But Simonyan, the RT editor who formerly served on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign staff, strongly hinted that any Justice Department actions could have repercussions for the U.S. news organizations that operate in Moscow.
“I wonder how U.S. media outlets, which have no problems while working in Moscow, and that are not required to register as foreign agents, will treat this initiative,” she said. She also blasted the Justice Department’s action as part of a “war” against freedom of the press and journalists. “Those who invented [freedom of speech] have buried it,” she said.
There is an exemption in FARA for news organizations and media outlets. Foreign media outlets in this country have rarely registered under the law. Any Justice Department action targeting RT and Sputnik could have major implications for state-owned media outlets from other countries. If the Russian news organizations were required to register, they would not be banned from operating. However, they would be required to file reports about their content and finances and their news products would have to be labeled as government propaganda. The news services’ executives could technically face criminal charges and fined if they are found to have willfully failed to register.