Russia paid radio broadcaster $1.4 million to air Kremlin propaganda in DC

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The Russian government sent more than $1.4 million to a Florida-based company airing Kremlin propaganda in the nation’s capital over the last two years, according to recent foreign agent registration records.

Florida-based company RM Broadcasting LLC has officially registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department after a federal judge ordered it to do so in May. 

Marking DOJ’s first successful civil enforcement action under the Foreign Agents Registration Act in more than two decades, U.S. District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg ruled that RM Broadcasting should be registered as a foreign agent under FARA due to its relationship with Rossiya Segodnya, the Russian government’s media enterprise that owns Sputnik International and was created by Vladimir Putin to advance Russia’s interests abroad.

A 2017 U.S. intelligence report found that Sputnik was part of “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine” that facilitated Russian interference and influence in the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump.

Starting shortly after Trump’s election, RM Broadcasting agreed to act as the Russian media enterprise’s middleman brokering airtime on WZHF 1390, a Washington, D.C., area radio station owned by Way Broadcasting. 

The station, which previously played bluegrass music, made serious money airing content the U.S. government considers pro-Russia propaganda. RM Broadcasting reported being paid more than $1.4 million from November 2017 to June 2019 to air Sputnik 24 hours a day. 

The agreement spans from November 2017 through the end of 2020, providing for approximately $55,000 in monthly spending interspersed with multiple six-figure advance payments.

Under the 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, DOJ’s FARA unit 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’s FARA registration records reiterate their role in the arrangement, noting the company “does not promote, create, edit, control, operate, or have any decision-making authority whatsoever in the content of the radio programming.”

Sputnik’s Virginia-based radio broadcaster, Reston Translator LLC, registered as a foreign agent in November 2017 amid increased FARA enforcement from the Justice Department. Following Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the Justice Department has prosecuted an unprecedented number of FARA-related cases, indicting political figures ranging from former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig. 

Broadcasters have received mixed signals on whether they should register under FARA. DOJ’s new focus on foreign influence has entangled several foreign state-funded media outlets, including the Kremlin-owned Russia Today and potentially Qatar’s Al Jazeera.

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