U.S. Department of Justice flouts freedom of press

Libertarian National Committee Chair Nicholas Sarwark on RT.
Libertarian National Committee Chair Nicholas Sarwark on RT.

The U.S. Department of Justice, in a clear violation of the First Amendment, has required the Russian-funded news network RT to register as a foreign agent under the WWII era Foreign Agents Registration Act. RT, formerly known as Russia Today, faced government threats if it did not comply — including arrest of RT management and seizure of company accounts, which would effectively shut down the network. RT has registered because of those threats.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, in unequivocal terms, that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” with no exceptions for expression published or broadcast by foreign-owned media.

“Libertarian Party officials have appeared on RT in the past,” said Libertarian National Committee Chair Nicholas Sarwark. “We know and knew that they were sponsored by a foreign country, as is Al Jazeera, Press TV, and the BBC, and understood that they were pursuing a particular editorial line. We believe the American people are also smart enough to understand that, although it appears that the U.S. government thinks less of their intelligence than we do.”

Sarwark has repeatedly appeared on RT to explain Libertarian Party views and activities to its wide range of viewers, as have LNC Vice Chair Arvin Vohra and Executive Director Wes Benedict.

“The solution to bad speech is more speech,” Sarwark added. “The registration law was created in the wake of allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election campaigns, but violating the First Amendment further erodes our free speech rights and doesn’t even solve the problem of potential meddling. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Libertarian Party leaders are ready to explain libertarian ideas on all major mainstream American media outlets, such as ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, Benedict pointed out, and although that offer will always stand, those outlets almost never include Libertarian Party officials or candidates.

“We’d love to share our message in far more places if only the mainstream media would stop keeping the Libertarian viewpoint from Americans,” Benedict said. “Almost everybody thinks Fox News is biased toward Republicans and CNN is biased toward Democrats. For Americans too dense to figure out that RT is biased towards Russia, registering as a foreign agent won’t help.”

The United States has its own government-funded media operations that broadcast in many other countries throughout the world.

“The hypocrisy of the Justice Department’s strong arm tactics is mind-boggling,” Benedict said. “The Voice of America has been broadcasting news in Russian and 40 other languages since 1942. I’m sure that Russia considers those VOA broadcasts to be propaganda.”

According to political scientist Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University the United States attempted to influence foreign elections at least 81 times between 1946 and 2000, and it did not stop then. In 2014, while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, a high-ranking State Department official named Victoria Nuland was caught in a taped conversation with the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, conspiring together on how to affect an election in that country.

The U.S. Justice Department’s violation of freedom of the press for RT will not only set a terrible precedent for the rights of Americans, there will undoubtedly be retaliatory consequences elsewhere, including censorship of American news outlets in Russia. According to Russian State Duma Chair Vyacheslav Volodin, the Russian legislature will probably extend regulations on foreign agents in Russia to include news media organizations.

“Less consumer choice in news in both the United States and Russia is a lose-lose proposition for the people of both countries,” Sarwark concluded.

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