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U.S. media outlets face ban in Russia assembly

MOSCOW -- Russia on Tuesday named Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and seven affiliated news services as foreign agents, and the Russian parliament prepared to ban the organizations from attending its sessions.

The moves come as Moscow follows through on its promise to retaliate for similar U.S. actions against the English-language Russian network RT, which Russian leaders characterize as an attack on freedom of the press.

On Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Justice published a list of nine outlets, which include Russian-language subsidiaries of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that cover the Caucasus region of Russia, Crimea, Siberia, and two predominantly Muslim regions in central Russia, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. The designation also includes Current Time TV, which is produced by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Factograph, a website produced by Radio Liberty.

The ministry statement did not mention any specific restrictions on the media outlets. But the Russian State Duma, the lower house of parliament, planned today to ban reporters from any U.S. media outlets declared as foreign agents, following a decision by Congress to ban RT last month.

"The Duma decision might be looked upon as censorship or infringement of the rights of American journalists here but we understand that we have to make such decisions because the Congress has made such a decision in regards to RT," Duma deputy speaker Pyotr Tolstoy said Monday.

On Tuesday, Sergei Popov, deputy head of the rules committee for Russia's upper house, the Federation Council, said the body also could ban media outlets designated foreign agents, the Interfax news agency reported.

The Justice Department required that RT, previously known as Russia Today, register as a foreign agent under a 1938 law because of its alleged role in interfering in U.S. affairs and the 2016 presidential campaign by pushing the Kremlin's agenda.

RT disputes that it is an agent of the Russian government, arguing that it offers alternatives to mainstream news coverage, and Russian leaders have vowed to respond in kind.

"We didn't start this theater of the absurd," Maria Zakharova, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Monday at a Duma hearing. "But we have to respond to it."

Russia's law on foreign agents, which in the past has been used on nongovernmental organizations critical of the Kremlin, requires the organizations to label their publications as coming from a foreign agent. The Russian government recently designated a union of truckers protesting highway tolls as a foreign agent.

A bill extending that law to media organizations sailed through both houses before President Vladimir Putin signed it last month.

Voice of America and Radio Free Europe were created during the Cold War to broadcast news to the closed societies of the Soviet Union and the communist countries in its orbit.

Russian leaders say that in the drama surrounding RT, they are the ones defending free speech.

A Section on 12/06/2017

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