Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken earlier this week rejected a Russian law requiring independent news organizations and some journalists to label their content as “foreign-agent produced” if they receive foreign funding.
“The Secretary agreed that the Russian government’s efforts to silence independent journalism only harm the citizens it is meant to serve,” Kelu Chao, acting CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, said in a statement.
The USAGM oversees Radio & Cuba Martí. It said it refuses to label content targeting Russian audiences “in such a wholly inaccurate manner.”
The agency said a “legislatively mandated firewall prohibits its networks from accepting editorial direction from the U.S. government.”
Then-President Trump had dismantled that firewall, but officials have been working to renew it since Joe Biden’s election. See “Hopes for editorial independence restored as USAGM CEO resigns.”
The USAGM said Russia accuses the agency of nearly 400 violations of Kremlin’s “foreign agent” regulations. Russian authorities have targeted Radio Liberty, the USAGM’s main service for Russia; the Current Time 24/7 television and digital network serving a global Russian-speaking audience; the regional reporting projects North.Realities, Siberia.Realities, Caucasus.Realities, Idel.Realities, and Crimea.Realities; the Tatar-Bashkir Service; and the fact-checking website Factograph.info.
In addition, in December, Russian authorities named three of the agency’s freelance reporters as individual “foreign agent” journalists.
Press freedom and human rights organizations have urged that Russia repeal its foreign agent law.
The USAGM – along with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department – have spent tens of millions of dollars to support independent journalists and freedom of expression projects in Cuba over the past 20 years.
Public documents show that one of the main goals has been to shape the narrative about Cuba. Spending records list some U.S. government-financed media organizations, including Asociación Diario de Cuba, Editorial Hypermedia Inc., CubaNet News, Canyon Communications and the Digital News Association.
The names of other organizations are kept secret.
In 2012, former CIA covert agent Dan Gabriel began managing a group of journalists in Cuba. Videos they produced were posted to a website called WebStringers. At that time, the site contained no sign of U.S. government ties. It has since been updated to show that it produces content for the USAGM, formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
One of Gabriel’s projects was called HavanaSpring. That project’s YouTube page includes a video called Crisis in Cuba. It was posted on Jan. 10, 2019, and says:
If you enjoyed this video, contact Sen. Marco Rubio to tell him to fund Cuban independent journalists!
The email belongs to Viviana Bovo, senior advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs for Sen. Marco Rubio.
Her name also comes up in a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing. On Jan. 18, 2021, two days before Joe Biden took office, lobbyist José Cardenas wrote to Bovo asking her position on several human rights issues that were priorities during the Trump administration. See letter. But that’s another story…