MOSCOW, July 24 (Itar-Tass) —— Yevgeny Fyodorov, a members of the Russian State Duma with the ruling United Russia party known for his scandalous initiative to award a “foreign agent” status to foreign-sponsored mass media, said on Tuesday he had not recalled his bill from the Duma but asked it to suspend its consideration.
Currently, however the initiative is still in the State Duma electronic base marked by a “recalled bill” tag.
“I have sent a letter asking to suspend its consideration because it needs a government resolution,” Fyorodov told Itar-Tass. In his words, the document “envisages keeping a special register, and any register implies state expenses, whatever small.”
“Under the constitution, the author is obliged to obtain this paper before submitting a bill,” he noted. “So, the consideration of the bill has been suspended, but the database puts it as recalling.”
According to the lawmaker, the cabinet of ministers “must give its opinion in a span of a month.”
Apart from that, in his words, a “bill is considered as submitted only when it reaches the Duma Council” [which fixes the agenda]. “If there is no such paper but a bill is submitted, the Council returns it to the initiator,” he explained. “As a matter of fact, it was not submitted, since it was not considered by the Duma Council.”
He said he took “the public discussion around the bill normally.” “Although, I should confirm the fact that there is pressure around it because grant-receivers apparently are reluctant to show and inform the Russian audience about foreign sources of financing. It is also manifested in various pressure mechanisms,” he noted.
According to Fyodorov, article 2 of the Law On Mass Media, which interprets the law’s notions and terms, should be supplemented with one more notion, that of “mass media – foreign agents.” It will be applicable to mass media receiving financing or property from “foreign states, their state bodies, international or foreign organizations, and foreign citizens.” The bill binds such mass media to inform their audience about their foreign sponsors, indicating this information in publisher’s imprint or television licensing details.
These obligations will be applicable to Internet media as well. “Viewers or readers must know that, say, a television channel they are watching receives money from a foreign source, the United States, for example. And when this television channel begins to canvass for this of that candidate for governor, he is the subject of interest of the United States and this governor will work for them,” Fyodorov said.
At the same time, he said he meant only “political” money. Thus, in his words, a mass media body will be qualified as a foreign agent only in case it, for instance, has a contract with any of the divisions of the United States’ Department of State. Thus, foreign financing is not enough to list a media body as foreign agent: it should be “engaged in the interests of foreign sources.”
“It is a logical step stemming from the law on the ‘foreign agent’ status of non-government organizations,” the bill’s author stressed. “The more so as that the influence mass media have in society is maybe even bigger than that of non-government organizations.”
Like non-government organizations, under the recently passed law, mass media bodies, under Fyodorov’s bill, will be obliged to register as foreign agents. A special register will be maintained by an “executive body authorized by the Russian government.” Such media bodies will have to mark their products with special signs reading that these products “are made and distributed by a mass media organization – foreign agent.”
Along with the notion of the “foreign agent status,” according to Fyodorov, the law should be supplemented with a provision imposing special reporting and auditing procedures on such mass media. Such media should be obliged to report to an authorized agency about spending targets in respect of the funds and property they receive from foreign sources. More to it, they will be obliged to report about actual spending.
United Russia leaders however have refused to have anything to do with Fyodorov’s initiative. Thus, deputy secretary of the United Russia General Council, Alexei Chesnakov, said the party did not plan to initiate amendments to the Law On Mass Media. Sergei Zhelezhyak, United Russia deputy speaker of the State Duma, referred to the bill as a “personal initiative of lawmaker Yevgeny Fyodorov.” “The faction has never discussed the issue of such a bill and I think that by now the ideas advocated by the bill’s author have already been realized in the current law,” he said.