The U.S. State Department said that a new law allowing Russia's Justice Ministry to brand foreign-media outlets as "foreign agents" poses a threat to press freedom and urged Moscow not to use the measure to tighten control over the media.
"Freedom of expression, including speech and media which a government may find inconvenient, is a universal human rights obligation Russia has pledged to uphold," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement late on November 28.
Nauert said Russia already has used its existing foreign-agents law covering nonprofit groups "to justify a constant stream of raids, harassment, and legal proceedings that effectively obstruct nongovernmental organizations from doing their work."
"Expanding the Foreign Agents Law to include media outlets opens the door to onerous requirements that could further stifle freedom of speech and editorial independence in Russia," she said.
The new law affecting media, signed by President Vladimir Putin on November 25, enables the Kremlin to require foreign media to disclose their funding sources and to label the news they provide to Russians as the work of “foreign agents.”
The legislation was rushed through Russia's parliament in two weeks after the U.S. Justice Department required Russian state broadcaster RT to register its U.S.-based affiliate company as a "foreign agent."
Nauert rejected any comparison between the U.S. and Russian laws, saying the American law does not put limits on foreign media news coverage or operations within the United States.
The U.S. Justice Department required the RT affiliate to register under a long-standing U.S. foreign-agent law after U.S. intelligence agencies came to the conclusion that the Kremlin used state media to try to influence U.S. voters in last year's presidential election.