State-supported Russian media outlet Sputnik says its U.S.-based partner company RIA Global LLC has been ordered to register as a foreign agent by the U.S. government.
Citing what it said was a letter from the Justice Department, Sputnik said it was told that RIA Global "has an obligation to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act," known by the acronym FARA.
According to Sputnik, the Justice Department said that RIA Global produces content on behalf of state media company Rossiya Segodnya and thus on behalf of the Russian government.
It said the media outlet was given a deadline of 30 days after January 5 to register.
Among many severe strains on their relationship, Russia and the United States are at odds over the treatment of Russian media outlets in the United States and U.S. media outlets in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law in November that enables the country's Justice Ministry to designate foreign media outlets as "foreign agents."
Moscow says the law, which has been sharply criticized by Western governments and global media rights groups, is a response to what it claims is pressure on Russian media outlets in the United States, including a requirement issued last year for state-supported broadcaster RT's U.S. operating unit to register under FARA.
The United States denies that it has pressured Russian media outlets.
The U.S. law, which was passed in 1938 to counter fears of Nazi propaganda and misinformation, does not restrict foreign media operating in the United States but does require things like accounting registers, corporate documents, and similar records be made available for Justice Department inspection.
Sputnik cited the Justice Department letter as saying that upon registration, "Rossiya Segodnya and RIA Global may continue producing and broadcasting the content of their choosing, provided that each broadcast is accompanied by a requisite disclosure statement."
Late last year, a Washington, D.C., area radio station that had recently taken over Sputnik’s broadcasts registered under the U.S. foreign-agent law. The station’s owner, a Virginia company called Reston Translator, filed the paperwork with the Justice Department in November.
In December, the Russian Justice Ministry on December 5 declared Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and seven affiliated news services "foreign agents."
While RT and Sputnik distribute their programs freely in the United States, RFE/RL is already subject to severe restrictions in Russia, with nearly all of its radio broadcasts forced off the air by 2012 due to administrative pressure. Neither RFE/RL nor VOA has access to cable TV in Russia.
RFE/RL and VOA are overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a U.S. agency that supervises civilian government broadcasting and media operations. VOA is a federal entity, while RFE/RL is a private, nonprofit organization funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress.
With reporting by Sputnik and Reuters