The company that operates Russian government-funded broadcaster RT has registered as a foreign agent, the Justice Department announced Monday.
The registration of RT’s parent company, T&R Productions LLC, comes as Russian authorities protested the Justice Department’s request that the broadcaster file disclosures required of organizations that do political work on behalf of foreign governments or entities.
Documents filed with the DOJ’s Foreign Agents Registration Act unit include similar protests from the Russian company. But the documents shed new light on the finances of the Russian media website.
The filings list Mikhail V. Solodovnikov as the general manager of T&R Productions LLC, and indicate that he was paid an annual salary of $670,000. The company reported spending $6.6 million in August and September. Of the expenses, $1.6 million was spent on salaries, another $2.2 million on construction and improvements.
In a statement on the registration, the Justice Department indicates that T&R has operated studios for RT since August 2014, hired and paid all U.S.-based RT employees and produced English-language programming for the broadcaster.
The registration filings, dated Friday, state that the company “produces the various shows pursuant to various commercial agreements with ANO (autonomous nonprofit organization) TV-Novosti and one other television network.”
The disclosure states that TV-Novosti provided RT with $350,000 as payment for television production services pursuant to its contract on Oct. 31. Only payments made over the last 60 days were required to be included on the form.
The filing goes on to state that “the production of shows remains under the independent editorial control of registrant” and that the company “respectfully disagrees that FARA should apply.”
The DOJ’s request for RT to register as a foreign agent comes amid outrage over the Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. presidential election last year.
Under the FARA laws, anyone who is employed as an agent of a foreign principal, such as a foreign government or foreign political party, and works to engage in political activities in the U.S. is required to register with the Justice Department. Entities that register are not blocked from engaging in any activities, but the registrations provide transparency about their funding sources.
Failure to comply with FARA laws can lead to civil or criminal penalties, though enforcement has been notably lax in recent years.
RT Editor in Chief Margarita Simonyan wrote on Twitter that the company opted to register rather than face the penalties.
“Between a criminal case and registration, we chose the latter. We congratulate American freedom of speech and all those who still believe in it,” she said.
FARA enforcement relies heavily on voluntary compliance, as Justice Department staff within the registration unit do not have the authority to compel private companies to disclose their financial information. As a result, the unit often gets involved after public media reports raise questions about a company’s work for a foreign government.
Currently, 408 entities are registered as foreign agents with the Justice Department. Media outlets that have registered include Japan’s NHK TV news channel, the China Daily newspaper and China’s Xinmin Evening News.
Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente said RT’s registration as a foreign agent provides needed transparency about the company’s operations.
“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,” Mr. Boente said. “The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing FARA and expects compliance with the law by all entities engaged in specified activities on behalf of any foreign principal, regardless of its nationality.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry previously said that Russia would retaliate against American media if RT were forced to register as a foreign agent, though it has not indicated how.
Russian President Vladimir Putin weighed in on the matter over the weekend at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam.
“An attack on our media is an attack on freedom of speech,” Mr. Putin said, according to Radio Free Europe. “They went the route of de-facto closure [of RT]. There will be a proper tit-for-tat response.”
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