In Our Opinion: The US Must Set the Global Standard for Protecting Press Freedom

Deseret News (Salt Lake City), December 7, 2017 | Go to article overview

In Our Opinion: The US Must Set the Global Standard for Protecting Press Freedom


The Russian government recently announced that some American journalists will be required to register with the government as “foreign agents.” The bill, voted on unanimously by Russian lawmakers and signed by President Vladimir Putin, is a direct response to the Justice Department’s recent decision that Russia Today, a state-run Russian news outlet, must register as a foreign agent in the U.S.

While both governments reserve the right to monitor the flow of foreign workers in their countries, the connotations of “foreign agent” construe journalists as political actors. This threatens journalists who rely on perceptions of objectivity for security around the world — and further exacerbates a public distrust of the media.

The Russian government announced that nine news outlets — including Voice of America — would be affected by this new law. This announcement comes on the heels of intense speculation that outlets like CNN might be required to register. They were not included in the list of outlets, however. Yet, this decision does have implications for press freedom around the world, as the legal language of “foreign agents” is part of politicizing fact-based journalism.

In 1938, Congress passed the “Foreign Agents Registration Act” during World War II as an attempt to combat pro-Nazi propaganda. The act required that anyone operating "at the order, request, or under the direction or control" of a foreign government in a "political or quasi-political capacity" register with U.S. officials. In 1966, the law was amended, constraining the definition of foreign agents even further. Under the revision, foreign agents were those who sought to influence governmental decision-making to gain an economic or political advantage. Thus, the focus on registering foreign agents shifted to strictly diplomats and lobbyists. …

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