Political pressure blamed for Moscow radio shake-up

Thu, Feb 16, 2012, 00:00

RUSSIA’S MOST influential talk-radio station and its only independent election monitoring group have accused officials loyal to prime minister Vladimir Putin of subjecting them to growing pressure ahead of his planned return to the Kremlin next month.

Journalists at broadcaster Ekho Moskvy say politics are behind a bid by its majority owner to change its board of directors, and the station’s chief editor was yesterday summoned by prosecutors, before later being told that he did not have to appear.

Separately, election monitors at Golos, who are gathering information on Russia’s presidential election campaign ahead of the March 4th ballot, have been ordered to leave their Moscow office today in what they call the latest stage in a persecution campaign by the authorities.

“I see this as a clear attempt to alter editorial policy,” Ekho Moskvy’s chief editor Alexei Venediktov said of moves by majority owner Gazprom-Media – an arm of state energy giant Gazprom – to secure control of the board of directors.

The shake-up came a month after Mr Putin accused Ekho Moskvy of “pouring diarrhoea all over [me] from dawn to dusk”, and of airing a misleading and pro-US report. Mr Venediktov said he did not believe Mr Putin had ordered changes at the station, but that “many zealous officials took [his criticism] as an order to attack”.

Gazprom-Media insisted the management changes would not affect editorial matters, but also said they had been brought forward due to “heightened interest shown by various sides recently towards the radio station”.

Prominent economist Yevgeny Yasin, who is to be replaced as an independent director of the station, said Russian officials “want to establish control over independent mass-media outlets, and above all over Ekho Moskvy”. Mr Venediktov was yesterday summoned by prosecutors over a complaint from an individual in a provincial town about Ekho Moskvy’s employment practices. The somewhat bizarre summons was later revoked, but fuelled more talk of an official campaign against one of the few Russian media outlets that regularly criticises Mr Putin.

Amid the biggest protests of Mr Putin’s 12 years in power, election monitor Golos has been accused by state media of undermining Russia’s authorities at Washington’s behest. Golos’s leaders say they’re today illegally being forced to leave their Moscow headquarters by owners of the building whom Golos believes are acting on orders from officials.