Since last summer, US officials have publicly accused the Russian government of interfering in the US presidential election by having computer hackers steal data from the Democratic Party and individuals associated with its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Now, in an apparent attempt at tit-for-tat retaliation, Russian lawmakers are accusing US media outlets of doing the same in Russia’s 2016 parliamentary election.
The accusations, brought by the chair of the State Duma Committee on Information and Communication Outlets, Leonid Levin, are that news organizations that receive federal support, as well as those that do not, like CNN, “are part of a larger American system of pressure on our country.” The news was reported by multiple Russian media outlets, including The Moscow Times and Sputnik News.
Levin added, “They are using a variety of instruments in respect to both the Russian electoral process and on our country as a whole.”
The investigation will look at outlets such as Voice of America and Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, which receive financial support from the US government for news programming targeted at non-US audiences. It will also include outlets not under government control.
The move is in response to an effort in the US Senate to give greater scrutiny Kremlin-backed outlets, like the television station RT, that target audiences in the US.
"The US Senate is considering a bill that would grant the Department of Justice, of which the FBI is a part, additional powers to investigate potential violations of US law by the RT America television network,” Levin said during a hearing on Tuesday. “Similar claims have also sounded in relation toward the Sputnik news agency, and other Russian media. They continue to accuse [these media] of trying to influence the presidential election in the United States, and of attempts to undermine confidence in the voting process itself.”
The lawmakers heard from a media analyst who testified that the coverage of the Russian elections by US-based media, while limited, was biased in favor of opposition parties and against United Russia, the ruling party of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
“The coverage of the elections was quite one-sided,” said Alexandra Dodorina, head of the media analytics firm M13. “It was quite rare to see a clash of opinions among speakers representing differing political forces, different views.”
However, in a sign that the Kremlin may not be taking the investigation completely seriously, Levin said that Tuesday’s hearing would be the first and the last time the committee considers the issue.
"We have decided not to go the formal route, and will not ask for dry briefings from state agencies,” Levin said. “Today we see no need to do so.” Instead, he said that he would direct staff to prepare a report that will be submitted to the head of the Duma.
The Russian hearings appear, in part, to be a reaction to a move by New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s introduction of a measure to bring outlets like RT America under closer supervision, charging that they operate as foreign agents in the US.
“Our bill will give the Department of Justice new and necessary authority to investigate potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act by RT America,” Shaheen said on the Senate floor, in remarks that the Kremlin-backed Sputnik News service described as a “rant.”
“This act was passed in the late 1930s in response to concerns about Nazi propaganda being disseminated in the United States without people knowing what it was. Well, this, I think, is absolutely appropriate today for us to take a look at what Russia and other countries may be doing to our news.”