If you set up an office in Washington DC on behalf of a foreign government and dedicate yourself to bending American public opinion to serve the interests of that country’s foreign policy, you’re more than likely a propaganda outlet.
U.S. law says you need to register that kind of operation.
The FBI has launched an investigation into whether Russian state-controlled media outlet Sputnik may be effectively acting as an undeclared propaganda wing of the Kremlin. If so, it may be violating of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), according to a report by Yahoo News.
Investigators obtained a thumb drive containing thousands of internal Sputnik emails and documents from Andrew Feinberg, Sputnik’s former White House correspondent, who downloaded the material onto his laptop before he was fired in May, the report said.
Feinberg told Yahoo News he was questioned for over two hours on Sept. 1 in the FBI’s Washington field office.
Feinberg wrote a first-person account of his work for Sputnik in August entitled, “My Life at a Russian Propaganda Network,” which concluded that: “In practice, Sputnik’s mission statement — “Telling the Untold” — means that Sputnik’s content should reflect the Russian side of any news story, whether it lines up with reality or not.”
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of both Sputnik the Kremlin-backed English language television station RT, called the FBI investigation “disgusting” and predicted Russia would respond by investigating American journalists.
“There is no doubt that Russia will respond to the FBI investigation in the same way and will check the work of American journalists in Moscow,” Simonyan said in comments carried by Sputnik. “Freedom of speech is turning in its grave. It was killed by those who created it.”
This is hardly the first time Russian media outlets have faced criticism in the West. In February, a spokesperson for NATO said called Sputnik “part of a Kremlin propaganda machine” that is “trying to use information for political and military needs.”
Sputnik and RT have pushed back against that description. “We are journalists, and mostly Americans work here,” Sputnik’s DC bureau chief, Mindia Gavasheli, said Monday in a statement. “We believe that any assumption that we are engaged in anything other than journalism is an absolute lie and fabrication.”
Neither the FBI nor Sputnik’s office in Washington DC returned emailed requests for comment from VICE News.