Russian Duma To Consider Barring All U.S. Journalists From Legislature

The Russian State Duma is considering barring all U.S. media from the lower house of parliament and will discuss the proposal next week, the head of the chamber's rules committee says.

Olga Savastyanova made the announcement on December 1, two days after the organization overseeing media access to the U.S. Congress stripped state-funded Russian TV channel RT of its press credentials for the legislature.

The threat to bar U.S. journalists from the Duma is the latest move by Moscow to respond to what it asserts is U.S. pressure on Russian media in the United States amid broader tension over issues ranging from Russia's aggression in Ukraine to its alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

"Our committee plans to hold an extraordinary session at which we will consider a draft resolution" that would prohibit "journalists representing all American media" from entering the Duma, Savastyanova said.

She indicated that the proposal would be submitted to the legislature's leadership on December 5 and could be discussed at a plenary session on December 6.

The Duma is dominated by the ruling United Russia party and does the Kremlin's bidding.

Presidet Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin viewed the proposed ban with "complete understanding."

The new threat comes after a bill enabling the Russian government to designate any foreign media outlet a "foreign agent" sailed through parliament and was signed by Putin on November 25.

Russia says the law is a "symmetrical response" response after RT -- which U.S. authorities accuse of spreading propaganda -- was required to register its U.S. operating unit under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

U.S. officials say it is not symmetrical, arguing that the U.S. and Russian laws are different and that Russia uses its "foreign agent" legislation to silence dissent and discourage a free exchange of ideas.

Human Rights Watch has condemned the legislation as a "full-throttle attack on media freedom" and said it was "tailor-made to be selectively and politically enforced, and to silence voices they do not want Russian people to hear."

The new Russian media law leaves it up to the Justice Ministry to determine which foreign media outlets will be designated as foreign agents. Russian officials and lawmakers have indicated outlets that could be targeted include Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Voice of America (VOA), CNN, and German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

The Justice Ministry has published a list on its website indicating that its first targets under the law may be nine media outlets connected with RFE/RL and VOA.

The U.S. Justice Department required the RT affiliate to register in the wake of a January finding by U.S. intelligence agencies that RT and Russia's Sputnik news agency spread disinformation as part of a Russian-government effort to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

John Lansing, the chief executive officer of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency that oversees U.S. civilian international media operations including RFE/RL and VOA, said on November 25 that characterizing Russia's steps as reciprocity for U.S. actions "severely distorts reality."

"Russian media, including RT and Sputnik, are free to operate in the United States and can be, and are, carried by U.S. cable television outlets and FM radio stations," Lansing added. "However, U.S international media, including VOA and RFE/RL, are banned from television and radio in Russia."

With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and RIA Novosti