RT wasn't given much choice. The outlet's leaders would face criminal prosecution if they did not register, as well as the potential loss of their license to broadcast. RT and Sputnik editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said that the edict was nonsensical and illegal, "but we are forced to submit."
"The war the US establishment wages with our journalists is dedicated to all the starry-eyed idealists who still believe in freedom of speech. Those who invented it, have buried it," she said.
Eugene Puryear and Sean Blackmon of Sputnik Radio's By Any Means Necessary spoke to Max Blumenthal, an author and journalist as well as the senior editor of progressive website AlterNet.
"RT America is accused of taking direct orders from Moscow," said Blumenthal. "The US government has made no effort to prove that there are direct editorial orders from Moscow. Eugene, you and I have been guests on RT, we know how things function in there. I've never seen any instance where Moscow has issued some kind of dictate from the Kremlin that's been followed to the letter by any RT personality. The shows are editorial and independent, and I think if there were a court case [the Justice Department] would have a hard time proving or demonstrating that RT is acting as a foreign agent."
"[RT] is not a lobbying operation — maybe you could, at best, call it an arm of soft power. How is that different from Al Jazeera [owned by the government of Qatar] or CCTV [owned by Beijing] or the BBC [owned by the UK]? This is an unprecedented escalation against state media. We've seen no other state media organizations actually step up for RT, none of the liberal civil liberties, free speech and human rights groups like Amnesty International or the ACLU have said a word. But last June, when Saudi Arabia and the UAE demanded that al-Jazeera pull its broadcasts off the air across the Middle East, Amnesty International, the New York Times editorial board, the ACLU, they all rushed to al-Jazeera's defense. They are silent now."
The silence, he said, "really embodies the hypocrisy around liberal culture that claims to be defending a free press under Trump, but which actually has convinced itself that somehow RT America was responsible for Trump's election."
Puryear pointed out that the UK's Office of Communications, which frequently fines journalistic outlets operating in the UK for biased or imbalanced reporting, has never once fined RT. Blumenthal agreed, and added that the targeting of RT had nothing to do with unethical reporting and everything to do with who owns them and the ideological slant RT brings.
"There is a disturbing truth about American foreign policy behind a lot of the supposed Russian troll ads on Facebook that… imperialist apologists don't want to acknowledge. That speaks to a larger truth about these investigations, including the foreign agent registration demand of RT, which is that there are simply highlighting aspects of American foreign policy and the American role in the world that they would prefer to have covered up. This is explicitly political."
But there's no "ideological war" between the US and Russia now as there was during the Cold War, Blumenthal noted. "Contemporary Russia's a capitalist state. It's running along a similar libertarian neoliberal model as the US, and so Russia's been reduced to one man: Vladimir Putin. He has been villainized and his image has become the face of Russia."
The journalist also discussed what he considered to be the demonization of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, and the overall dire omen the war on RT is for the future of press freedom in the US.
"This is part of a general attack on many of the kind of forums that we relied on from 2012 on that inspired these kind of revolts around the world, starting with the Arab Spring. [The establishment in the US wants] to put the genie back in the bottle, and that that genie is social revolt. I think the establishment in the US right now feels very much under attack by social media. It can't control the message anymore, and what we're seeing is a push toward censorship and for progressive media outlets to participate in this hysteria about fake news is setting themselves up for blowback because they're next after RT and Sputnik. I'm sure of it."