Russia set to ban US news organisations from covering parliament in blow for press freedoms

December 1, 2017 3:39 pm

Speaking on Wednesday evening, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov left reporters in little doubt. The “unfriendly” decision by the US Senate to strip the RT news network of its congressional credentials would be met with a strong “mirror” response.

It soon became clear that Russia’s interpretation of America in the looking glass would be anything but a simple reflection.

On Thursday morning, Olga Savastyanova, Chair of the State Duma Organisation and Regulation Committee, announced she was “examining” a proposal to ban all American journalists from the lower parliament. In addition, she would encourage regional assemblies to adopt similar practices.

Given previous history and the direction of official comments, the passage of the measure is not in serious doubt. Ms Savastyanova said her Organisation and Regulation committee would look the proposal on Monday, and that it will be “debated” in parliament on Wednesday. The Tass state news agency quoted a source suggesting that the ban would be in place as early as next week.

Russia set to ban US news organisations from covering parliament in blow for press freedoms

Ms Savastyanova made clear the measure is a direct response to the 29 November decision to deny congressional credentials to Kremlin-funded RT. That censure followed another US decision to force RT to register as a foreign agent under federal lobbying laws. 

Russia retaliated against that restriction by introducing a broadly worded amendment to its own media law on 15 November.

That amendment will force a wide range of foreign-funded media to register as “foreign agents.” At the very least, it is likely to place significant reporting burdens on Voice of America, Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, Current Time, and even CNN.

At the time, Human Rights Watch described the Russian legislation as “shockingly broad, disproportionate, and a serious infringement on freedom of media.”

Today’s move is mostly symbolic and unlikely to seriously impact reporting from Russia. Former Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov famously described the lower parliament as “no place for discussion” and it has long conceded law-making rights to the presidential administration.

Some reporters might even be relieved at the prospect of avoiding such coverage.

But the media tit-for-tat has serious consequences. Over two decades, the Kremlin has required little excuse to clamp down on media. That pockets of independent journalism still exist is the result of the tenacity of individual journalists and editors. The American moves to restrict RT, a relatively uninfluential platform, are likely to make their task harder.

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