U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., visited RFE/RL’s Moscow office on Friday, November 17.
At the end of the visit, he gave the following comment to RFE/RL and answered a question by VOA:
Comment: I’m here for a specific reason as the United States Ambassador. I’m here because we as Americans believe that freedom of the press and transparency are all an absolutely critical ingredient to a successful and strong democratic system. It’s part of what has given rise to our strength in the United States. We have a lot of different voices, we have a lot of different sources that provide news and cover politicians and cover the affairs of my country. We believe that in any democracy, that the work that is done by the many people in this room is absolutely critical.
So when we hear about things like the possibility for retaliation around the FARA law that we have in the United States out of the Department of Justice — which is simply a means by which in the United States we can provide greater transparency behind those news outlets that are funded by governments that are promoting a particular political line that people know exactly who’s funding it and know where those voices are coming from. It does nothing in terms of impacting the production side, the content, the messages that are delivered. Nothing at all. That’s part of our first amendment in the United States.
So I’m a little concerned as the United States Ambassador when I hear of the potential of threats to take action in response to our FARA that would effectively designate members of the media as foreign agents, which is completely different from what we seek to do in the United States under FARA, which is to promote greater transparency so the viewers know the funding behind the organization and maybe what some of their messaging objectives are.
So I’m here because we, in the Embassy and as Americans, feel strongly about freedom of the press and freedom of expression. So I thank you for the opportunity to speak with all of you and visit this impressive studio. And as I’ve mentioned I hope to come back for some interviews in this wonderful studio behind me and we’ve already made an agreement on that so I will very much look forward to that. Thank you all very much. It’s a pleasure.
VOA Question: Do you think it is justifiable to call Russian law a “response step” that allows foreign media in Russia to be recognized as “foreign agents” in the context of the application of the law on “foreign agents” (FARA) in the US?
Ambassador Huntsman: It’s a big concern, and it isn’t reciprocal at all. As I mentioned, our FARA law which has existed since 1938 in the United States is there for a reason. It promotes transparency because we believe that our citizens who are receiving news deserve to know where that information is coming from. If it’s coming from a foreign government that might have a particular message they are trying to impart to the American people, that should be understood by those who are on the receiving end. That’s far different from designating somebody a foreign agent. And effectively making it virtually impossible for them to operate. Or the employees to seek outside work after they leave for example their place of employment. It isn’t similar at all under what we’re doing under FARA. It’s a reach beyond. We just think the principles of free media in any free society and democracy are absolutely critical for strength and wellbeing. Freedom of speech is a part of that. That’s why we in the embassy care about the issue. That’s why we’re going to follow the work that is going on in the Duma and the legislation that is being drafted very, very carefully. Because we’re concerned about it.