WZHF-AM is “a Russian state-owned media enterprise created by Vladimir Putin to advance Russian interests abroad,” the Justice Department contended, as NBC news reported.
The Justice Department on Monday welcomed a federal judge’s ruling that a Washington, D.C., radio station must register as an agent of the Russian government, saying Americans “have a right to know if a foreign flag waves behind speech broadcast in the United States.”
Except for the five seconds every hour during which it identifies itself, WZHF-AM has broadcast Radio Sputnik around the clock since December 2017.
On it, Washington-area listeners can hear the takes of hosts like Lee Stranahan, a former Breitbart News reporter; Eugene Puryear, twice the vice presidential candidate of the Party for Socialism and Liberation; and John Kiriakou, the former CIA analyst who first confirmed that the United States used waterboarding to interrogate al Qaeda prisoners.
Radio Sputnik is part of Rossíya Segódnya, the government news agency created in 2013 by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In June 2018, the Justice Department ordered WZHF’s owner, RM Broadcasting of Jupiter, Florida, to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a 1938 anti-propaganda law.
RM filed a counterclaim, arguing that it simply buys and sells air time, without regard to or even knowledge of that content. Moreover, according to court documents, RM’s contract with Rossíya Segódnya specifically declares that neither party is an “agent for the other.”
But Judge Robin Rosenberg found last week in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, Florida, that what RM knows or intends isn’t important.
Rosenberg noted that under the contract, RM is required to perform services for Rossíya Segódnya in exchange for payment, which she said makes the company an agent of the Russian broadcaster under the law. And simply saying you’re not an agent doesn’t mean you’re not, in fact, an agent, she found.
RM’s attorney, Nicole Hughes Waid, said Tuesday that the company was a small business and “doesn’t have the resources to continue this legal battle with the government.”
John Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement Monday that the issue isn’t a free-speech dispute over what WZHF is airing.