FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, May 13, 2019
Court Finds RM Broadcasting Must Register as a Foreign Agent
U.S. District Court Judge Robin L. Rosenberg has ruled that a Florida-based company, RM Broadcasting LLC (RM Broadcasting), was acting as an agent of a foreign principal and must register as such under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA).
The Department of Justice contended in a civil counterclaim that RM Broadcasting has been acting as an agent of the the Federal State Unitary Enterprise Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency (Rossiya Segodnya), a Russian state-owned media enterprise created by Vladimir Putin to advance Russian interests abroad. The litigation marked the first FARA civil enforcement action since 1991. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers and U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan for the Southern District of Florida made the announcement.
“The American people have a right to know if a foreign flag waves behind speech broadcast in the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. “Our concern is not the content of the speech but providing transparency about the true identity of the speaker. This case shows that the Department can and will utilize all of its tools to bring transparency to efforts by foreign entities to influence the American public and our government, and demonstrates our renewed effort to enforce FARA rigorously.”
“While the right to free speech remains paramount to our democracy,” U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan said. “FARA ensures that the American public is fully cognizant of the true source of the messages broadcast in the United States. Armed with full information, Americans may properly evaluate the value of the speech they hear. As such, FARA is a fundamental tool in our continuing efforts to defend our democracy.”
In November 2017, RM Broadcasting and Rossiya Segodnya entered into a services agreement pursuant to which RM Broadcasting would provide for the broadcast of Rossiya Segodnya’s “Sputnik” radio programs on AM radio channel 1390 WZHF in the Washington, D.C. region. Under this agreement, RM Broadcasting could not alter Rossiya Segodnya’s radio programs in any way. As the services agreement established Rossiya Segodnya’s direction and control over RM Broadcasting, the FARA Unit of the National Security Division informed RM Broadcasting that it was acting as a publicity agent and an information-service employee of Rossiya Segodnya and was required to register as an agent of a foreign principal.
RM Broadcasting initiated the proceeding in the Southern District of Florida seeking a declaratory judgment that it did not have to register as an agent of a foreign principal. The Department responded by filing a counterclaim seeking an injunction to require RM Broadcasting to register. Earlier this week, the court granted the Department’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. A final judgment directing RM Broadcasting to register under FARA is expected.
This case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew J. Feeley and Trial Attorney Nicholas Hunter of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.
The purpose of FARA is to protect the national defense, internal security, and foreign relations of the United States by requiring public disclosure by persons engaging in political activities and other activities for or on behalf of foreign governments, foreign political parties and other foreign principals so that the Government and the people of the United States may be informed of the identity of such persons and may apprise their statements and actions in the light of their associations and activities.
National Security Division (NSD)
USAO – Florida, Southern
Press Release Number:
(Source: Washington Post via Mike Hansgen)
Sputnik radio, a media organization funded by the Russian government with offices around the world, broadcasts from a studio in downtown Washington blocks from the White House. It airs talk shows hosted by, among others, Lee Stranahan, a former Breitbart News reporter, and Brian Becker of the far-left ANSWER Coalition. Its website recently featured a discussion of Russia’s “Great Society” and a chat titled “Is Doing Business in Russia Really That Difficult?” The Weekly Standard once likened the experience of listening to Sputnik to “being immersed in some menacing alternate history timeline: It’s like ‘The Man in the High Castle,’ but for Cold War kids and with real-world implications.” And it has caught the ear of federal authorities.
Since U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, the Department of Justice has tried to compel Sputnik’s associates to register as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. So far, those efforts have mostly been successful: Rossiya Segodnya, the Russian news agency that funds Sputnik, has registered under FARA, as has the managing member of the company that owns 105.5 FM, one of two frequencies that Sputnik broadcasts on in Washington. (Before Sputnik, 105.5 FM played bluegrass.)
There is one holdout: Arnold Ferolito, owner of RM Broadcasting, which leases airtime to Sputnik on 1390 AM in Washington.Not only has he refused to register his company as a foreign agent, the semiretired 76-year-old Florida man is suing the Justice Department over the request. “I’m not being caught up in somebody’s agenda. I’m a business guy,” he told me. “No one gave me anything unless I fought for it. There’s a principle here. In the United States, a person should be able to do business without government interference. … It’s nuts that you have to do something like this.”
In his complaint, filed last fall in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Ferolito contends RM Broadcasting doesn’t have “any kind of joint-venture relationship whatsoever with Rossiya Segodnya,” and that the two entities are simply engaged in “an arms-length commercial business transaction.”
The Justice Department isn’t buying that. In its countersuit, it alleged that Ferolito broadcasts Sputnik news under “the direction and control of Rossiya Segodnya” and is an “information-service employee.”[…]