Where do the limits of a free press lie? If one were to ask Ilya Ponomarev, a member of the Russian parliament and the only lawmaker to vote against his country’s annexation of Crimea, the answer might be at the doorstep of RT, formerly known as Russia Today. In a recent interview with BuzzFeed, Ponomarev—who currently lives in exile in California and was stripped earlier this month of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution, thereby exposing him to criminal charges and likely expulsion from the Duma—proposed that the flashy, Kremlin-funded international news network register as a lobbyist. “It’s a great mistake that the west is doing, that it’s acknowledging [RT] as a media tool. I think it’s a lobbying tool and it should be regulated as a lobbyist rather than media,” Ponomarev argued.
It was far from the first time that RT has been accused of being a mouthpiece for the Russian government. In fact, students at Columbia’s School of Journalism, under the direction of professors Ann Cooper and Linette Lopez, have an entire Tumblr dedicated to tracking the controversy surrounding RT’s reporting. But Ponomarev’s comments did suggest that a debate about how to respond to news outlets like RT, already well underway in Europe, has reached the United States, where the network is available via cable (mostly in and around major metropolitan areas) and satellite TV, and online. BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray notes, for example, that the network has been subject to official investigations and threatened with sanctions in the United Kingdom—where RT is the fourth-most-watched 24-hour news station—for alleged bias in its reporting on the crisis in Ukraine.