Branding news outlets as foreign agents won't make them any more transparent

Updated 7:52 AM ET, Thu November 30, 2017

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Suzanne Nossel is executive director of PEN America. She was formerly executive director of Amnesty International USA and deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations at the State Department. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)RT -- the Kremlin-funded news channel formerly known as "Russia Today," frequently cited as a central gear in Russia's propaganda machine -- is nothing if not colorful. The network is known for declaring the Boston Marathon bombings a government plot, publicly shaming its own journalists if they dare defy the Kremlin line and for featuring American commentators known for conspiracy-mongering.

Suzanne Nossel
Now RT can add another ignominious label to its long list: foreign agent.
Following years of hue and cry over the network's overt pro-Kremlin bias, earlier this month the Department of Justice forced the channel to file under the "Foreign Agents Registration Act," or FARA, a 1938 law that was initially passed to counter pro-Nazi propaganda and subsequently retooled in the 1960s to publicly pinpoint those lobbying on behalf of foreign interests.
Forcing RT to register as a foreign agent is justified, but isn't the best way to counter the propaganda the channel -- or any other source of disinformation for that matter -- puts out. While RT has howled its objections, the network may protest too much. Absent a far wider effort to incentivize and enable news consumers to distinguish serious news and analysis from agitprop, FARA registration or not, the influence of RT and other shady news sources may survive intact.