Make Chinese Media Register as Foreign Agents, Senators Urge Sessions

A studio of the Chinese TV channel CGTN at the 2017 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). (Alexei Danichev/Sputnik via AP)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions today to compel China-owned media entities operating in the United States to register as foreign agents.

Russia Today, or RT, skipped an October deadline to be listed as an agent of the Russian government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, but eventually registered the following month as required by the Justice Department. Sputnik followed suit and also registered under FARA. In retaliation, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law to list foreign media companies operating in his country as foreign agents.

Today’s letter to Sessions, led by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), asked the attorney general — based on the Justice Department’s FARA enforcement on the Russian government controlled media entities — “to provide information on the Department’s actions and plans, if any, to require similar registration from Chinese state-controlled media outlets operating in the U.S.”

“While FARA contains an exception for certain news or press services, this exception does not apply to a news or press service owned, directed, supervised, controlled, subsidized, or financed by a foreign principal, or whose policies are determined by a foreign principal,” they noted.

The annual report of the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission, issued in November, noted that individuals working for Xinhua news agency — which has offices in several major U.S. cities — and the People’s Daily newspaper were required to register under FARA.

The report stated that Xinhua “serves some functions of an intelligence agency by gathering information and producing classified reports for the Chinese leadership.”

Thirty million households in the United States also get the China Global Television Network (CGTN), formerly China Central Television (CCTV), among their channel choices. CGTN is overseen by China’s State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television, which answers to the State Council of the PRC.

China’s “increasingly active foreign influence and perception-management operations,” the lawmakers continued, require a “sensible step” from the U.S. government of “appropriately enforcing existing laws, such as FARA, designed to protect against just such concerns.”

They asked Sessions to respond to a series of questions regarding what steps DOJ has “taken to assess whether Chinese state-controlled media organizations operating in the U.S. including Xinhua, China Daily (beyond its U.S. distribution company that is already registered), and CGTN… and their employees, are required to register as agents of a foreign principal under FARA.”

Also signing the letter were Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Rubio introduced a bill today along with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) to enlist national security tools in helping stop foreign interference in elections, including a foreign government, “or an agent acting on its behalf,” from using “social and traditional media to spread significant amounts of false information to Americans.”

“We cannot be a country where foreign intelligence agencies attempt to influence our political process without consequences,” said Rubio. “This bill will help to ensure the integrity of our electoral process by using key national security tools to dissuade foreign powers from meddling in our elections.”