Putin Shuts State News Agency
RIA Novosti said the decision signaled a strengthening of the Kremlin’s grip over media in the country.
Published: December 11, 2013 (Issue # 1790)
MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin on Monday issued a decree ordering the liquidation of RIA Novosti, the massive state-owned news agency, and mandated the creation of a new global news agency to be headed by an aggressively pro-Kremlin television host.
In its own article about the news, RIA Novosti’s English-language service said the decision signaled a strengthening of the Kremlin’s grip over media in the country.
“The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector,” the news service wrote.
The presidential decree came as a shock to the Russian media scene — including to RIA Novosti employees, who were not informed of their agency’s reorganization ahead of time. One employee of the agency, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the corporate New Year’s party had been canceled and that everyone was “demoralized.”
Another RIA Novosti employee said they were told that after a change in leadership over the next month, the organization could be sold off piece-by-piece to other Russian media companies.
Kremlin administration head Sergei Ivanov justified the decision to shut the agency on financial grounds, while also admitting to the “soft power” purposes behind its replacement, to be called Rossia Segodnya.
“The new agency is a more rational use of budgetary funds allocated to state information resources, and we are talking about reducing — and not increasing — funding,” Ivanov told journalists, Interfax reported.
“Russia is pursuing an independent policy, firmly protecting its national interests and explaining this to the world is not easy, but it can and must be done,” Ivanov said.
The direct translation of Rossia Segodnya is “Russia Today,” the former name of state-owned English-language television channel RT. The new agency apparently will remain separate from RT, however, while it remains unclear what languages it will publish in.
RIA Novosti is the successor of the Soviet Information Bureau, founded in 1941 to cover World War II. It has since become Russia’s most prominent news agency and is considered one of the most objective media outlets in the Russian government’s large array of holdings. The agency has hundreds of employees, including in 69 cities across Russia and in 49 countries.
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