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Russian Broadcaster RT's U.S. Contractor Files as Foreign AgentBy
Company denies Kremlin control, files to avoid prosecution
U.S. intelligence reports say RT consistently attacked Clinton
A U.S. contractor for Russian state broadcaster RT has registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent, even though it says it has editorial independence and doesn’t take direction from the government in Moscow.
T&R Productions LLC, which has created content for RT since 2014, filed the disclosure Monday under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. RT said it complied with a U.S. demand to make the filing by Nov. 13 or face prosecution.
“Americans have a right to know who is acting in the United States to influence the U.S. government or public on behalf of foreign principals,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Dana Boente said in a statement Tuesday.
The production company said in the filing that it “respectfully disagrees that FARA should apply.” The company said it has editorial control over the programs it produces, with on-air talent given reasonable creative discretion. It said its programs, which include news, talk shows and entertainment broadcasts, “are not aimed to primarily benefit any foreign government or political party.”
The U.S. Congress is investigating RT’s role in Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, as well as possible influence by Sputnik, a state-run news agency. In January, the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency released a declassified report alleging that RT had sought to undermine the U.S. elections with “consistently negative” coverage of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Tensions have risen steadily between the U.S. and Russia since Donald Trump took office in January despite the president’s campaign promises of better relations. The two countries targeted each other in tit-for-tat diplomatic measures after America toughened sanctions on Russia for election meddling. Russia has threatened to retaliate against U.S. media after American authorities targeted RT.
Russia is poised to list U.S. media outlets as “foreign agents” by extending legislation used to restrict the activities of civil society groups, Vyacheslav Volodin, Russia’s speaker of the lower house of parliament, said Friday in comments posted on the State Duma’s website.
RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan said Monday that the company would accept registration under protest. “Between a criminal case and registration, we chose the latter,” she said on the company’s website. “We congratulate American freedom of speech and all who still believe in it.”
FARA requires detailed disclosures of the activities of individuals and organizations that attempt to influence U.S. policy or public opinion for foreign governments and government-controlled organizations. Foreign media companies are generally exempt from registration unless they are controlled by a foreign government. TASS, the Soviet-era news service, registered under FARA.
The disclosures by T&R Productions detail the relationship between the Washington-based production firm and RT parent ANO TV-Novosti, which is described in the filings as a Russian nongovernmental organization. T&R Productions said that while the Russian government finances the organization, it doesn’t know who “supervises, owns, directs, controls or subsidizes” ANO TV-Novosti.
T&R Productions disclosed payments of just $350,000 from ANO TV-Novosti under its total budget of $6.7 million for August and September in the filings, which included its 81-page contract, in English and Russian, with the NGO. The company didn’t make additional funding disclosures.
Mikhail Solodovnikov, who is RT’s news director for America and the person who incorporated the company in April 2014, disclosed his salary as $670,000 per year.