The European Union has dismissed Russian authorities' labeling of Latvia-based independent news outlet Meduza as a "foreign agent" and urged Moscow to end its "systematic infringement" of basic rights and freedoms for the political opposition and other Russians.
Russia's Justice Ministry announced the step -- which requires organizations to label themselves as "foreign agents" and subjects them to increased government scrutiny and regulation -- against the 7-year-old Meduza outlet a day earlier.
"We reject the decision by the Russian authorities to include independent media outlet Meduza on the list of 'foreign agents,'" the EU's diplomatic service said in a statement on April 24.
The bloc cited the media's duty to "report on issues of public interest" and state authorities' "obligation...to ensure they can do so in an atmosphere free of fear and intimidation."
"It is extremely concerning that Russian authorities continue to restrict the work of independent media platforms, as well as individual journalists and other media actors," the bloc's spokesperson said. "It goes against Russia's international obligations and human rights commitments."
Meduza was formed in 2014 by the former chief editor of Lenta.ru, Galina Timchenko, after she and most of Lenta.ru’s editorial staff left following an ownership change.
According to the independent Medialogia monitoring site, Meduza was among the top 10 most-cited Russian-language Internet sources in 2020 and was No. 1 in the ranking of most-linked-to in social-media posts.
The same day that the designation was ordered against Meduza, the Justice Ministry added the little-known, Moscow-based First Anti-Corruption Media project, which describes itself as “a federal media outlet specializing in the fight against corruption in Russia,” to the same registry.
Russia’s so-called “foreign agent” legislation was adopted in 2012 and has been modified repeatedly. One of its modifications targets foreign-funded media.
In 2017, the Russian government placed RFE/RL’s Russian Service on the list, along with six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services, and Current Time, a network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.
At the end of 2020, the legislation was modified to allow the Russian government to include individuals, including foreign journalists, on its “foreign agents” list and to impose restrictions on them.
"It is the European Union’s longstanding position that the so-called 'foreign agent' law contributes to a systematic infringement of basic freedoms, and restricts civil society, independent media, and the rights of political opposition in Russia," the EU said. "Democracy is a universal value that includes respect for human rights as enshrined in international law."
The Russian state media monitor Roskomnadzor last year adopted rules requiring listed media to mark all written materials with a lengthy notice in large text, all radio materials with an audio statement, and all video materials with a 15-second text declaration. The agency has prepared hundreds of complaints against RFE/RL’s projects for failure to follow such rules that could result in fines totaling more than $1 million.
RFE/RL has called the fines “a state-sponsored campaign of coercion and intimidation,” while the U.S. State Department has described them as “intolerable.”