Protecting the US audience
- To demonstrate the US government's strong confidence with the US intelligence reports about an evil role of the Russian propaganda and to show its commitment to put all the necessary efforts to prevent such actions in the future;
- To convince the US citizens that the Russian propaganda advertises anti-American ideas and concepts, undermines the key concepts of the US democracy;
- To make it impossible for Russian propaganda agencies act as financial proxies;
This article sums it up in three paragraphs — Reuters (highlight mine):
U.S. intelligence agencies said in a report in January that the television station, which broadcasts on cable in the United States, is “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine” and that it contributed to the Kremlin’s campaign to interfere with last year’s presidential election in favor of Republican Party candidate Donald Trump.
After that report, the Department of Justice insisted that RT America comply with registration requirements under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). Under the act, RT will be required to disclose financial information.
“Americans have a right to know who is acting in the United States to influence the U.S. government or public on behalf of foreign principals,” said acting Assistant Attorney General Dana Boente.
Losing influence on Russian audience
this gives Russia an excellent excuse to force Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to register as a foreign agent
The alleged brainwashing of a US citizen by "Russia Today" and the alleged brainwashing of a Russian citizen by RFE/RL, VoA, CNN, and Fox News are simply two different things:
An average US citizen influences the US policy. By voting on real elections, enjoying free speech, and finally, being able to make pressure on their Senator and convince other US citizens.
Also, it can be unclear for them that there exist mass media created solely for propaganda purposes, in each and every program, including "weather reports" talking about perfect weather conditions for airstrikes. A naive person watches it and starts believing the lies ("can't they, finally, push propaganda in each and every word? there's no smoke without fire, so they must be right at least partially!")
Hence, spoiling an US citizen's opinion with an foreign propaganda may have big effect.
An average Russian citizen, on the contrary, knows for sure that the US and "Gayrope" want to conquer Russia and take all its natural resources.
Also, they in no way participate in their government's policy (1).
Even, the very word "a Liberal" is almost a pejorative in modern Russian language.
So, telling an average Russian citizen that "Radio Liberty" is a bad, bad, bad enemy agent would arguably have low effect, if any (2).
Also, an accusation of unfair oppression would be countered with a simple argument: other countries' official media already register under FARA:
"Foreign government-owned news organizations, including China Daily, the English-language newspaper owned by China’s government, register under FARA. The law applies to companies that are owned or controlled by foreign governments." — (same source)
OTOH, allegations of selective enforcement have also been reported.
- (1) According to the recent (Nov '17) public survey that was conducted by a Russian center "Levada Center", to the question, "To what extent do you think you can impact to what's going on in the country?", 68% answered Not At All, 21% answered Not Really, and only 3% and 2% answered Somewhat and Completely — Link, in Russian
- (2) The same "Levada Center" in has conducted a survey (Mar '17) just after the Russian government's adoption of their own law regarding “foreign agents”.
Question, "In your opinion, can an organization which receives money from abroad remain independent, or will they primarily serve the interests of their foreign sponsors?", 66% respondents answered, "Will serve the interests of foreign sponsors" — Link, in English.
The same survey, question: "With what do you primarily associate the expression “foreign agent”?, 45% answered "Spy, recruiter, foreign intelligence, double agent, infiltrator, recruited".