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DC-Area Radio Station Registers As Foreign Agent of Russians

July 8, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
DC-Area Radio Station Registers As Foreign Agent of Russians

WASHINGTON – The Russian government paid a middleman company more than $1.4 million to broadcast propaganda for the past two years on Washington, D.C., area radio station WZHF 1390, according to recently-released foreign agent registration records.

The registration by Florida-based RM Broadcasting LLC was ordered by a federal judge in May after a civil enforcement action filed by the Justice Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a statement, “Our concern is not the content of the speech but providing transparency about the true identity of the speaker.” 

U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg ruled RM Broadcasting must register with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act because of its contract with Rossiya Segodnya, a Russian government media organization. The organization operates internationally as Sputnik International.

A 2017 U.S. intelligence report says Sputnik International was created by Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.”

The FBI accused Sputnik International of using propaganda on social media to help the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

More recently, Sputnik International hired RM Broadcasting to purchase airtime on WZHF 1390 to broadcast what the U.S. government called Russian propaganda. Previously, the station played bluegrass music.

However, from November 2017 to last month, WZHF broadcast Sputnik International programming 24 hours per day. The contract with RM Broadcasting is scheduled to continue until the end of 2020. It would give the company six-figure advance payments and $55,000 a month to cover expenses.

The contract also forbids RM Broadcasting from altering Rossiya Segodnya’s programming, which the Justice Department says makes the American company a publicity agent of the Russian company.

The arrangement is described in RM Broadcasting’s foreign registration, which says the company “does not promote, create, edit, control, operate, or have any decision-making authority whatsoever in the content of the radio programming.”

After the Justice Department ordered RM Broadcasting to register as a foreign agent, the company responded by filing a lawsuit in federal court in Florida seeking a declaratory judgment that it should be exempt. The company argued that it was a media organization exercising its right to free speech, which was not the same as being a foreign agent.

The Justice Department filed a counterclaim seeking a court order for RM Broadcasting to register.

The court’s judgment agreed with the Justice Department.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act is a 1938 federal law that requires agents representing the interests of foreign countries in a “political or quasi-political capacity” disclose their relationship with the foreign governments. They also must report their activities and finances.

The judgment in the RM Broadcasting case was the Justice Department’s first successful civil prosecution under the Foreign Agents Registration Act since 1991.

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