NDAA Carries New Disclosure Requirements for U.S.-Based Foreign Media Outlets

As part of a continuing push to address foreign influence in the United States, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) enacted on August 13, 2018, includes new disclosure requirements for foreign-affiliated media companies operating in the United States. A public notice issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on September 4, 2018, explained that the NDAA amends the Communications Act to add language requiring these outlets to submit to the FCC a report containing its name and relationship to its foreign principal.

The new law requires that U.S.-based foreign media outlets submit a report every six months containing the name of the outlet and a description of the relationship of the outlet to any foreign principal, including a description of the legal structure of the relationship and any funding the outlet receives from the principal. A “foreign principal” is defined as the government of a foreign country, a foreign political party, a person outside the U.S., or a foreign corporation. The law defines the term “United States-based foreign media outlet” to mean an entity that (a) produces or distributes video programming and (b) would be an agent of a foreign principal for purposes of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) but for FARA’s exemption for U.S. press organizations. The exemption allows any U.S. news association, newspaper, magazine, or periodical to avoid registration under FARA so long as it is at least 80% owned by U.S. citizens and is not controlled or financed by a foreign principal.

The FCC is required under the new law to make these reports publicly available and report on them to Congress every six months. As of the FCC’s May 9, 2019 report, only two outlets had filed disclosures:

  • One outlet, Anadolu Agency NA, Inc., is a news organization whose parent company, Anadolu Ajansi, a Turkish state-run news agency. The report submitted by the outlet notes that Anadolu Agency is solely owned and financed by the Turkish news agency.
  • The other outlet, MHz News LLC, submitted a report stating that it had contracts with two foreign entities, France Medias Monde and Deutsche Welle, to distribute video programming produced by those entities. Though MHz asserted that neither company was controlled by a foreign government, the company filed its report out of an abundance of caution given that each receives its funding through a government mechanism. The FCC indicated in its report that the two media outlets had submitted reports after being contacted by FCC staff.

This latest push to curtail foreign influence in the United States coincides with the Department of Justice’s efforts to press state-run media companies to register under FARA.