Lawmakers want watchdog to probe Russian radio's 'propaganda' in U.S.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three Democratic lawmakers want the U.S. communications watchdog to investigate whether the Russian government-funded radio station and news site Sputnik violated government regulations by broadcasting programs aimed at influencing U.S. policies and elections.

Sputnik radio began airing in the Washington area in late June at a sensitive time for relations between the United States and Russia with a special counsel and Congress looking into U.S. intelligence agency allegations that Moscow tried to swing the 2016 presidential election in Republican Donald Trump’s favor. Russia has repeatedly denied meddling in the election.

The Federal Communications Commission has jurisdiction over broadcast radio and TV stations that use the public airwaves, but not over websites.

“In Washington, D.C., listeners need only tune their radios to 105.5 FM to hear the Russian government’s effort to influence U.S. policy,” the three lawmakers said in a statement.

Representative Frank Pallone, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Representatives Anna Eshoo and Mike Doyle asked FCC chairman Ajit Pai to investigate.

“This means the Kremlin’s propaganda messages are being broadcast over a license granted by the FCC,” the U.S. House of Representative members said.

A spokesman for Pai declined to comment.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said: “These are important questions. They deserve answers.”

Sputnik did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

Reuters reported in April a Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the election and undermine American voters’ faith in their electoral system, citing three current and four former U.S. officials. Russia dismissed the report as false.

Reuters reported that in March 2016 the Kremlin instructed state-backed media outlets, including international platforms Russia Today, now known as RT, and the Sputnik news agency, to start producing positive reports on Trump’s quest for the U.S. presidency, the officials said.

Sputnik in April rejected the assertions by the U.S. officials that it participated in a Kremlin campaign as an “absolute pack of lies.”

RT said in an online story last week that the Justice Department had demanded that the company providing production and operations services for RT America register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Last week, Yahoo News reported the FBI has questioned a former White House correspondent for Sputnik news agency as part of a probe to determine if the company is acting as an arm of the Russian government, which could violate FARA.

Sputnik told Yahoo News that “any assertion that Sputnik is anything but a credible news outlet is false.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Grant McCool