Russia’s RT television network is set to go off the air in the Washington, D.C., area, one of the network’s most coveted markets in the United States.
The Kremlin-backed network will have its final cable and network broadcast in the Washington area on Saturday when two local digital stations that currently air its programming shut down.
MHz Networks, based in Fairfax, Virginia, distributes RT and several other foreign news channels via Virginia-based WNVC and WNVT but says it decided to end their distribution after the operator of the two stations sold their licenses last year, leaving MHz without a broadcast home in the region.
The move comes as MHz Networks representatives and Justice Department lawyers have held talks over whether the company should register as a foreign agent because of the foreign government-sponsored news content the company carries.
But Frederick Thomas, the company’s founder and CEO, said the decision to drop the foreign news channels reflected changing technologies and dynamics in the television business and had nothing to do with any requirement for the company to register as a foreign agent.
“The FARA thing is very coincidental to the entire thing,” Thomas said, referring to the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Under FARA, persons acting as agents of foreign governments or foreign government institutions must register with the Justice Department and provide periodic disclosure of their activities.
MHz Networks approached the Justice Department after the agency last year compelled T&R Productions LLC, a company behind RT, to register as a foreign agent, Thomas said. Last year, the Justice Department also required Reston Translator LLC, a radio station operator that carries Radio Sputnik, to register as a foreign agent. Radio Sputnik is also funded by the Russian government.
Thomas said MHz representatives told Justice Department lawyers last year about their plans to drop RT and other news channels and that DOJ officials appeared to approve of the decision.
“If I were a betting man, given that we’re not running full channels, it’s questionable whether we should register for two or three hours of content,” Thomas said.
MHz operates MHz Choice, a digital streaming service, and MHz Worldview, a TV network available nationwide on satellite and on Cox Communications in the Washington area.
MHz Worldview airs mostly entertainment programming but also three hours of international news content provided by state broadcasters Deutsche Welle of Germany and France 24 of France, as well as CNA, a 24-hour English-language news channel that is 51 percent owned by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua. It does not carry RT.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
Bloomberg News first reported the news.
In the United States, RT is primarily available via satellite. It is also available in more than 2.7 million hotel rooms around the world, including more than 1,000 hotels in the United States, according to RT’s website.