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Putin tightens his grip on Russian media

Vladimir Putin issued a decree ordering the shakeup. Picture: Reuters

Vladimir Putin issued a decree ordering the shakeup. Picture: Reuters

  • by TIMOTHY HERITAGE IN MOSCOW
 

President Vladimir Putin has appointed a controversial news anchor to head a restructured state news agency, signalling the Kremlin’s intention to tighten control over the media and use it increasingly to air ultra-conservative views.

Dmitry Kiselyov, who spent much of his weekly news programme on state TV maligning homosexuality and speculating about western-led conspiracies, has been put in charge of all resources of the former RIA Novosti, now renamed Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today).

He has been a loyal Putin supporter, at times making provocative remarks. In 2010, he said gays should be banned from donating blood or sperm and last year said they should also be banned from donating organs.

The move is the second in two weeks strengthening Mr Putin’s hold on the media, as he tries to reassert his authority after protests against his rule.

Most Russian media outlets are loyal to him, and opponents get little air time, but the shake-up underlined their importance to keeping Mr Putin in power and the Kremlin’s concern about his ratings and image.

A decree signed by Mr Putin said: “The main focus of … Rossiya Segodnya is to highlight abroad the state policy and public life of the Russian Federation.”

Sergei Ivanov, head of the presidential administration, said the changes were to save money and improve the state media.

However, the new body has strong similarities to APN, a Soviet-era news agency whose role included writing articles about “the social-economic and cultural life of the Soviet people and items reflecting Soviet society’s point of view on important internal and international events”.

RIA said in an English-language article about Mr Putin’s step: “The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape which appear to point towards a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.”

Rossiya Segodnya’s focus on building up Russia abroad could solidify Mr Putin’s grip on information by further limiting sources of news for Russians whose TV screens are dominated by state-controlled channels.

The president’s decree seems to have little effect on the two other big news agencies, state-run Itar-Tass and private Interfax, but it could benefit both by making RIA’s replacement less of a competitor domestically.

Itar-Tass is the successor of the Soviet Tass agency, while Interfax has more leeway but is restricted by the Kremlin’s dominance.

The Kremlin extended its grip on radio and TV broadcasting on 26 November when the media arm of state-controlled Gazprom bought mining tycoon Vladimir Potanin’s Profmedia. Through the deal, the former Soviet gas ministry – now Russia’s largest firm by revenue – will add TV and radio stations, cinemas and film production, and distribution assets to a sprawling portfolio built up around commercial channel NTV.

The Kremlin already funds English-language TV channel RT, formerly called Russia Today. It is not clear if it will operate separately from the new agency.

 

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