Russian state-funded TV channel RT has registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent after pressure from the U.S. government, documents released Monday show.
The Justice Department announced the registration just hours after RT's chief editor said the company had complied with the U.S. demand that it register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The move doesn't restrict the channel's content, but the network is required to publicly disclose details about its funding and operations as well as mark certain content distributed in the U.S. with labels.
Many news outlets with ties to foreign governments are required to similarly register, but the pressure on RT has angered Russian officials who have said they will retaliate with unspecified restrictions on U.S. news outlets.
On Monday, RT editor, Margarita Simonyan, said on the channel's Russian-language website that "between a criminal case and the registration, we have chosen the latter," adding on a sarcastic note that "we congratulate the American freedom of speech and those who still believe in it on that."
Simonyan said that failure to fulfill the U.S. Department of Justice's request to register by Monday could have led to the arrest of RT's American director and the freezing of its accounts.
In a statement, Acting Assistant Attorney General Dana Boente said that the Justice Department enforces the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, "regardless of nationality."
"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," he said in the statement.
Passed in 1938, the law applies to people or companies disseminating information in the U.S. on behalf of foreign governments, political parties and other "foreign principals." The law is most commonly applied to foreign lobbying efforts, but the Justice Department has also required registration by media outlets funded by foreign governments. For example, the English-language newspaper, China Daily, is registered due to its affiliation with the Chinese government.
The filing for RT came through its U.S.-based production company, T & R Productions LLC. According to the filing, the Washington-based production company registered as a foreign agent of ANO TV-Novosti, the Russian government entity that handles the broadcast of RT worldwide.
In the filing, the production company disclosed that it was paid $350,000 within the past 60 days by ANO TV-Novosti, which it notes is funded by the Russian government "to substantial extent." It also disclosed several licensing agreements with the Russian entity for shows such as "News with Ed Schultz," "Redacted Tonight" and "Larry King Now."
T & R Productions owner, Mikhail V. Solodovnikov, also registered personally as a foreign agent, but he said he "respectfully disagrees that FARA should apply."
Solodovnikov, who reported a $670,000 annual salary, said the channel's purpose is to produce "news, talk shows and entertainment programs that are designed merely to inform, not influence." The programs are "not aimed to primarily benefit any foreign government or political party," he added.
The U.S. intelligence agencies have alleged RT served as a propaganda outlet for the Kremlin as part of its multi-pronged effort to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russia denies interfering.
In response to the Justice Department's pressure on RT, Russian lawmakers are drafting retaliatory measures. The Justice Department said Monday it is reviewing the filing for "sufficiency."