PR Urged to Monitor Foreign Agents Registration Act

[Editor's Note: The authors are attorneys with Covington & Burling, LLP.]

Many PR firms, media companies and advertising agencies have noticed the Department of Justice (DOJ) increasingly is targeting these sectors for enforcement under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

These include high-profile, Robert Mueller-led investigations and prosecutions, government efforts to force a radio station to register as a foreign agent for selling airtime to a foreign news outlet, and numerous efforts to require registration of foreign, state-owned media groups operating in the US.

In addition, outside of public view, there have been other media-focused FARA investigations that have yet to result in public enforcement actions. In this environment, every PR firm, media company or advertising agency dealing with foreign clients or business partners needs to consider FARA. background on fara

FARA was enacted in 1938 to force public disclosure of Nazi and other foreign propagandists working in the US in the run-up to World War II.

The statute uses sweeping language intended to capture anyone trying to influence US public opinion on behalf of foreign interests. But it also captures activities outside the US: foreign individuals, corporations, associations and others.

Activities relevant to PR and media include a statute triggered by acting as a “Public Relations counsel,” which is very broadly defined to include “informing, advising, or in any way representing” an entity “in any Public Relations matter.”

Being a “public agent” also triggers the statute; this is anyone who publishes or disseminates ”...matter of any kind,” including “advertising, books, periodicals, newspapers, lectures, broadcasts, motion pictures, or otherwise.”
Public Opinion Can Trigger FARA
Additional triggers cover activity that is intended to influence public opinion on matters of foreign or domestic policy, and the act of publishing nearly any information about a foreign country, organization or company.

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