RT America as an organisation and RT America’s employees as individuals have been forced by the US government to register as “foreign agents” under the controversial Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.
Russia has already taken steps to retaliate by working to classify Radio Free Europe and Voice of America operations in Russia under similar new regulations passed by the State Duma.
However, when it comes to the individual journalists and commentators who work for RT America, the Foreign Agents Registration Act represents an ominous sounding insult that is totally undeserved.
If the tit-for-tat measures Russia has taken combined with behind the scenes negotiations to force the US down from its ideological war against its own First Amendment, which guarantees the right to freedom of speech, all end up failing, there is another less traditional but totally peaceful route that Russia can take on behalf of employees of its intentional public broadcaster.
Since the United States is so keen to label RT America workers “foreign agents” in spite of the fact that most are US citizens who are no more connected to Russia than an American news anchor for the defunct Al Jazeera America was connected to Qatar, it is clear that any attempts to explain the obvious, are futile endeavours in the face of a US government pushing an increasingly illogical and totally one-sided agenda.
However, what is possible is for Russia to take the “foreign agent” lemon and make lemonade. An envoy or diplomat is a title of prestige granted by a government or multi-national body like the UN to an individual, where the term “foreign agent” clearly carries a pejorative.
Recently, the UK government contemplated and is apparently still contemplating granting diplomatic status to a Iranian with UK citizenship who has been convicted in an Iranian court of conspiring against the government. The thinking behind this proposal is to retroactively give the imprisoned individual known as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe special diplomatic status which may clarify her real purpose for visiting Iran.
The mater of RT America employees is far more clear cut. RT America journalists and other workers, including editors, sound men etc… are a diverse group of individuals who stand accused of committing no crime. Like many highly paid lobbyists working for foreign governments, they simply need to register on a database of other individuals. However, because these individuals are journalists rather than lobbyists, the entire situation is ultimately absurd. Furthermore, far from being covert in their activities, the journalists at RT America frequently appear on international television. This is the diametric opposite of engaging in covert activity. International television is about as extroverted a profession as one can have.
In this sense, while the political and social commentators at RT America are stating their own views and while news readers are reading stories which can of course be found on other domestic and international outlets, their work is certainly closer to that of special envoys than to that of lobbyists or worse yet spies.
In this sense, Russia could bestow a special diplomatic status on the individuals registering as “foreign agents” in what would be a masterstroke of putting matters into perspective using diplomacy, in every sense of the word. One man’s fake “foreign agent” could easy be another man’s “special journalistic envoy”.
Furthermore, if the US decided to take things further and harass or persecute the “foreign agents” who are really just journalists and commentators, Russia would be in a position to stand up for their human rights, if their own country failed to do so.
Of course, some RT America employees might not want this status and others might for various technical reasons, not fit the bill, but for those who are of an appropriate position and are happy to be granted what would realistically amount to little more than an honorific title from an internationally respected superpower, it would be a way of turning a potential negative situation into a positive.
If Canada could make Nelson Mandela an honorary citizen and the US could grant honorary citizenship to Winston Churchill, then maybe there is hope yet for “foreign agents” to be rewarded an honorary diplomatic title which would preserve their honour in the short term and possibly help to defend their human rights in the longer term, should the state of civility in the US take an even bigger turn for the worse.
Perhaps, Moscow could start by bestowing Larry King with such a title. As an American legend of broadcast journalism, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind having one more honour to his name and clearly, he is enjoying hosting his popular shows on RT America.