MOSCOW, Russia: Following the closure of a number of Russian state news outlets in the West, this week the Russian lower house of parliament, the Duma, passed a bill allowing prosecutors to close media agencies in Moscow from Western countries deemed “unfriendly” to Russia.
The bill, which must undergo two more readings, be reviewed by the upper house of parliament, and signed by President Vladimir Putin to become law, also prohibits the distribution of articles or other materials from media agencies closed by the prosecutor’s office.
Journalists from offending media organizations would have their foreign ministry accreditation withdrawn, and they could no longer work in the country.
In March, Moscow put in place a law penalizing what it termed the spreading of “fake news” about the Russian military.
In an official note on the bill seen by Reuters, the lawmakers said, “In the current geopolitical situation, the mass media has become an instrument of influence on the informational state of society.”
“In accordance with the bill, a journalist and a foreign correspondent may lose their accreditation if the fact of unfriendly action is established through the imposition of restrictions on the distribution of Russian mass media operating in a foreign country,” the note added.
The bill was introduced by influential lawmakers, including former KGB member Andrei Lugovoy, who was charged in absentia by British prosecutors in the 2006 poisoning murder of Alexander Litvinenko. He has denied involvement in the incident.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly criticized the West for withdrawing the broadcasting licenses and sanctioning pro-Kremlin media, such as the Sputnik news agency and RT television channel, steps he claimed show a disregard for media freedom.
After President Vladimir Putin signed a law imposing a jail term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake news” about the Russian military, some Western media outlets pulled their journalists from the country.