MOSCOW, RUSSIA: Russia could pass a law labelling media that gets funding from abroad as "foreign agents", a report said Monday, after the parliament approved a similar bill on NGOs.
The lower house, now on summer break, will begin its autumn session by discussing how to adapt the law on non-governmental organisations that it passed last week to fit media, lawmaker Ilya Kostunov of the United Russia party told Izvestia daily.
"I think the story with the foreign agents isn't over. A lot of media receive financial help from abroad and are mouthpieces of a foreign state," Kostunov told Izvestia, which has close links to the Kremlin.
"For a law on media we need to separately spell out the phrase 'foreign agents'," Kostunov said.
Another lawmaker, Vladimir Burmatov, suggested that media outlets including newspapers, magazines and websites could be classified as "foreign agents" if they received more than 50% of their budget from abroad.
"In that case the foreign patrons will practically be controlling the publication's editorial policy," he said.
The populist new law on NGOs, approved by the Duma last Friday, is expected to be passed by the Federation Council upper house on Wednesday and signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It sparked outrage by implying that NGOs with foreign funding are involved in espionage. It also subjects "foreign agents" who fail to register to harsh penalties including closure for up to six months and jail for up to two years.
The report of plans to widen the legislation came after the lower house pushed through a number of bills seen as curbing the rights of the opposition.
On Wednesday, the Federation Council will vote on the NGO bill as well as on bills blacklisting websites and criminalising slander.
The head of the presidential council on human rights, Mikhail Fedotov, on Monday posted online a letter he had sent to the upper house's speaker Valentina Matviyenko asking her to postpone the vote to allow more discussion. A law on discriminatory labelling for media would appear to target independent news outlets such as the BBC and Radio Liberty.
Depending on its wording, it could also affect foreign-owned media such as the respected Vedomosti business daily.
"The logic of such a bill is perfectly clear to me. Everything seems to be escalating," a lawmaker for the opposition party A Just Russia who is prominent in the protest movement, Ilya Ponomaryov, told Izvestia.
Yet parliament's deputy speaker, Sergei Zheleznyak, insisted to the Interfax news agency on Monday that the proposed law "was still at the stage of an idea."
Ironically, the director of Kremlin-funded Russia Today television, Margarita Simonyan, has said the channel already falls under the NGO law on foreign agents since it receives income from US-owned websites including Google.
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