November 10, 2017 21:56 GMT by nytimes.com

Russia Warns of Crackdown on U.S. Media, Including CNN

Russia Warns of Crackdown on U.S. Media, Including CNN

With RT agreeing to register, under protest, as a foreign agent in the United States, the Putin government is taking a hard look at CNN, Voice of America and Radio Liberty.

President Vladimir V. Putin’s government warned on Friday that it planned to crack down on CNN in Russia, possibly barring the news network from cable television packages, in retaliation for an American censure of RT, the state-run Moscow news organization.

CNN was among several American media organizations, including the federally funded Voice of America and Radio Liberty, that pro-Putin lawmakers said they would consider naming as foreign agents. That designation, which the networks would be required to place on their published work in Russia, amounts to being labeled by the Russian government as a hostile intelligence outfit.

The move — which could restrict the distribution and operations of foreign mass media in Russia — comes as RT, formerly known as Russia Today, has agreed to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent in the United States. And it opens a new front in an intercontinental dispute over Russia’s role in last year’s presidential election.

United States intelligence agencies have accused RT of acting as a propaganda outlet for Russian interests. During the presidential race, RT frequently portrayed the United States as a nation in disarray, often in sensational YouTube videos that racked up millions of views.

Representatives of RT deny that the Russian authorities dictated its coverage. And the Russian authorities had previously warned that any American sanctions against RT would be met with a tit-for-tat response.

Russia issued the warning on a day when President Trump and Mr. Putin were attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Danang, Vietnam. As Mr. Trump arrived in Danang, the White House announced that he would not hold formal talks with Mr. Putin. The two presidents shook hands and exchanged greetings before posing for a photograph at the forum’s gala dinner Friday evening.

It remained unclear on Friday whether Russia’s talk of a crackdown represented an imminent threat to the operations of American news outlets there, or the kind of saber-rattling that can be commonplace in Russian government. Some Russian officials see CNN’s international network as a useful vehicle to reach foreign audiences.

In a defiant statement on Thursday, RT’s editor in chief, Margarita Simonyan, denounced the Justice Department and said the request to register as a foreign agent had violated her network’s freedom of speech.

“The demand is discriminative; it contradicts both the democracy and freedom of speech principles,” Ms. Simonyan wrote on RT’s website. “It deprives us of fair competition with other international channels, which are not registered as foreign agents.”

Ms. Simonyan said she would sue the Justice Department. For now, RT is planning to register as a foreign agent because, she said, a refusal could lead to the freezing of its bank accounts and disclosure of personal information about employees.

By last year, during the presidential race, RT’s American cable network attracted about eight million viewers a week. The network assigned reporters to cover the major party conventions and campaign rallies. Among its on-air personalities were recognizable, if past-their-prime, American television veterans like Larry King and Ed Schultz, the former MSNBC anchor.

RT had particular influence on YouTube, where its 2.2 million subscribers rivaled the totals for major American news outlets. RT’s YouTube videos, created in numerous foreign languages, generated a vast audience outside its home country.

In the United States, the designation of foreign agent is typically assigned to foreign lobbying groups. Russia’s suggestion that it might assign the label to foreign news organizations is likely to raise alarm bells among press freedom groups.

The Russian minister of communications, Nikolai Nikoforov, said this week that the treatment of RT in the United States was the result of an undeserved animosity toward Russian interests.

“It is yet another manifestation of the general anti-Russian hysteria” in the United States, Mr. Nikoforov told journalists, “rather than of a constructive legal dialogue.”

The Justice Department declined to comment.

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