New Concerns on Russia Media Freedom
MOSCOW (AP) -- More than a half-dozen journalists with the Russian News Service, which produces reports that reach millions of radio listeners, resigned to protest the new pro-Kremlin management's policy that at least 50 percent of coverage must be positive, according to former correspondents.
The company that owns the service, Russian Media Group, said Saturday that no one was available to comment on the claims, which come amid growing concern about media freedom in Russia.
In another case highlighting the concerns, the Russian Union of Journalists is protesting an order that it vacate its offices that house state media operations, including the RIA-Novosti news agency and the Russia Today satellite television channel.
During Vladimir Putin's presidency, major Russian media have increasingly come under state control or influence. The media arm of the state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom took control of NTV television - once noted for its criticism of the Kremlin and independent reporting on the war in Chechnya - and the newspaper Izvestia.
Analytical programs on Russia's main TV channels are increasingly infrequent and less likely to express criticism of the Kremlin.
Artyom Khan, who left the Russian News Service in protest on May 9, told The Associated Press that seven of his colleagues also had left or submitted their resignations in the wake of the shake-up at the service, which provides news for its own station as well as others, including Russian Radio - the nation's biggest radio broadcaster, with an audience of 7.4 million daily.
Khan said his new editors told him a report on pro-Kremlin protests outside the Estonian Embassy in Moscow had a "pro-Estonian accent" and was "unprofessional." Editors refused to air material he produced on a Moscow march by the Kremlin's political foes in April, which was broken up by club-wielding riot police, he said.
"I can't say that the new policy is anti-Western or anti-American, but it is clearly pro-Russian," Khan said. "You have to convey the line of the party of power."
Mikhail Baklanov, the former editor-in-chief who was fired in April by the new managers, confirmed that a number of his colleagues had quit.
"People left because there was no chance to work professionally," he said. "They weren't able to do what journalists do," he said. "They were told that the first news item must be positive and the last news must be positive, while negative news must amount to no more than 50 percent" of the report.
The newspaper Kommersant cited the Russian News Service's general manager Vsevolod Neroznak as saying that the departure of journalists was "a usual affair ... restructuring of the company is taking place."
The service's policy "has not changed. The delivery of the news has simply become more considered," he was quoted as saying.
Earlier this week, the journalists' union said that it received an order from the state property agency to vacate its offices by Friday to make space for Russia Today, an English-language channel that critics see as little more than a Kremlin propaganda tool. The union said the order was dated April 18, but delivered only on Tuesday.
The property agency "is throwing out into the street an organization with a 90-year history, counting more than 100,000 journalists in its ranks and making, we may assert, a definite contribution to the construction of a democratic society," the union said in a statement.
"The explanation that 'freeing' the premises is necessary for widening the work of Russia Today, created to put forth to the world a positive image of our country, sounds ridiculous," the statement said.
The international watchdog group Committee to Protect Journalists decried the move.
"The CPJ calls on the government to reconsider its actions, to stop harassing our colleagues, and to allow them to do their work freely," executive director Joel Simon said in a statement.
Associated Press Writer Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.