Putin to Shut RIA in Overhaul of Russian State News Coverage

Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the Korea-Russia Business Dialogue in Seoul, South Korea, on Nov. 13, 2013. Close

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the Korea-Russia Business Dialogue in... Read More

Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the Korea-Russia Business Dialogue in Seoul, South Korea, on Nov. 13, 2013.

President Vladimir Putin tightened his grip on Russia’s news media by abolishing the RIA Novosti wire service and handing control of its successor to a controversial televison anchor.

Putin decreed that Dmitry Kiselyov, known for his outspoken views about homosexuals and Ukraine’s ongoing street protests, will head the new agency, called Russia Today, according to a document published on the Kremlin’s website today.

Putin has been criticized for rolling back press freedoms and increasing state ownership of the country’s mass media. The decision to eliminate RIA, which was founded days after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, comes two weeks after billionaire Vladimir Potanin sold his media business to a group backed by OAO Gazprombank.

“There’s been a consolidation in the media that’s involved in outwardly directed propaganda,” Boris Makarenko, deputy director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, said today by phone. “The holding’s new boss wasn’t an accidental choice. They’ve taken a person with the ethos of a Soviet-era propagandist, not a journalist.”

Russia was ranked 148th among 179 countries in a 2013 Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, a monitoring group based in Paris.

The decision clears the deck for Kiselyov, the host of a weekly news program on the Rossiya 1 channel and a deputy director of Russia’s state television and radio holding VGTRK.

No Accident

“Today attitudes in the world toward Russia aren’t fair,” he said in televised remarks. “Restoring a fair attitude toward Russia” is the goal of the new agency, he said.

Kiselyov drew the ire of Ukrainian protesters for his coverage of anti-government demonstrations in Kiev, which confused the chronology of events that culminated in demonstrators being beaten by Berkut special police. He’s also spoken out in favor of a ban on gays donating blood or organs.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declined to comment. The government will have a working meeting to discuss the implementation of Putin’s order, said Natalya Timakova, spokeswoman for Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

The primary purpose of the new agency will be “to provide information on Russian state policy and Russian life and society for audiences abroad,” according to the decree.

Kiselyov’s Oscar

A protester in Kiev yesterday interrupted a broadcast by television broadcaster Rossiya 24, part of the network that employs Kiselyov, to hand the correspondent a statue in the shape of an Oscar. The man asked the reporter to deliver it to Kiselyov for his “lies and drivel” about the mass rallies gripping the former Soviet republic.

Opposition forces are protesting Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to turn his back on a trade agreement with the European Union. Last night, youths tore down a statue of Vladimir Lenin in the streets of Kiev.

Putin decided to create the news agency to ensure “more rational use” of budget funds spent on the media, as well as to “improve the effectiveness of state news media,” said Sergei Ivanov, head of the presidential administration, the Interfax new service reported.

“Russia conducts an independent policy and firmly defends its national interests,” Ivanov was cited as saying. “That’s not easy to explain to the world, but it can and must be done.”

The new agency will also include the Voice of Russia radio station, according to the order. Its relationship to RT, the state-run television station previously known as Russia Today, wasn’t clear from the order.

Federal budget spending on RIA Novosti rose to as much as 3.18 billion rubles ($97 million) in 2011, from 1.07 billion rubles in 2008, the Kommersant newspaper reported on its website. The budget’s outlays this year equaled 2.97 billion rubles.

To contact the reporters on this story: Evgenia Pismennaya in Moscow at epismennaya@bloomberg.net; Scott Rose in Moscow at rrose10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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