A Russian court has found an international broadcaster backed by the United States government to be bankrupt after affirming the organization failed to pay more than $14 million in fines.
The fines against Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) were assessed as part of Russia’s “foreign agents” law, which requires news organizations backed by any group or government from outside the country to pay fees to the Russian government.
The law was passed i 2012 and originally targeted non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights groups, but was expanded to include news organizations, journalists and online bloggers. It came amid a similar edict issued by the United States Department of Justice that required Russian journalists working for RT, Sputnik and other organizations to register as foreign agents.
Officials at RFE/RL say the foreign agent fees imposed by Russia are a form of “political censorship meant to prevent journalists from performing their professional duties.” The organization says it has filed legal challenges with the European Court of Human Rights, and has moved for injunctions in Russia’s own courts.
RFE/RL’s issues began in 2021 when the Russian government froze its financial deposit accounts in the country, rendering it unable to fund its business in the country. The broadcaster’s domestic offices were closed last March when the Russian Federal Tax Service filed a lien against RFE/RL, a move that set the stage for the organization’s bankruptcy there.
Around the same time, Russia’s media regulator ordered RFE/RL’s websites blocked in the country. The move coincided with Russia’s military invasion of nearby Ukraine, which RFE/RL vigorously covered.
Jamie Fly, RFE/RL’s president, said Russia’s latest attempt to silence the broadcaster does nothing to dampen the hunger for fair and accountable journalism that is seen as a counter to propaganda published and broadcast by Russia’s own media entities.
“The Kremlin has now bankrupted our Russian entity, blocked our websites, and designated journalists as foreign agents, but our audience inside Russia continues to grow,” Fly said in a statement this week. “Russians realize they are not being told the truth by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s propaganda outlets, and they [seek] independent sources of information. This latest assault on our Russian entity will do nothing to change that fact.”
RFE/RL is funded by financial grants from the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which receives money as authorized by the U.S. Congress. It broadcasts in more than two dozen languages to a global audience in over 20 countries, primarily in areas where the U.S. government has found a need for objective journalism. It is similar to, but editorially separate from, the Voice of America.