The Russian parliament’s upper house on Wednesday backed a law that would require international media outlets to register as “foreign agents”, following US pressure on the Kremlin-backed RT television channel.

The legislation, which parliament’s lower house, the State Duma, unanimously backed in a fast-tracked vote last week, would allow Moscow to target foreign media outlets in a similar way it has gone for NGOs that receive international funding.

Many NGOs have closed in response to the intense scrutiny.

Under the new legislation, US and other foreign media would have to present themselves as such on all paperwork and submit to intensive scrutiny of staffing and financing.

Senators voted through the law in a morning session, the state TASS news agency reported. The legislation will come into effect when it is signed by President Vladimir Putin. 

The Kremlin’s council for human rights had recommended the Senate reject the bill, saying it was vaguely worded and difficult to reasonably enforce. 

“Any foreign media could be labelled a foreign agent quite arbitrarily by the justice ministry of the Russian Federation,” the council said in a statement Monday. 

Russia’s justice ministry said last week it had already contacted the US-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to inform them they might have to start labelling themselves as “foreign agents”. 

RT television, which is funded by the Kremlin to give a Russian point of view on international affairs, confirmed this month it had registered as a foreign agent in the United States, meeting a deadline from the US Department of Justice.

Washington considers RT a propaganda arm of the Kremlin and told it to register its American operation under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which is aimed at lobbyists and lawyers representing foreign political interests. – AFP