The general director of Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow), Russia’s oldest and most prominent liberal radio station, has been removed from his post and replaced with a state media official, in a move which many commentators have seen as further evidence of growing state control over independent media.
Yuri Fedutinov, who had managed the station since 1992, was ousted at a shareholders meeting and is to be replaced by Yekaterina Pavlova, a long-time employee of state television and, for the past two years, senior editor and deputy chairwoman of state radio station Voice of Russia. Pavlova was awarded a medal for “Services to the Fatherland” for her media work.
The decision was announced in a press release from Gazprom Media, the majority shareholder of Ekho Moskvy, with 66% of shares. Gazprom Media is Russia’s largest media holding, with a broad portfolio of television, radio and newspaper titles, including NTV, the formerly independent channel now noted for its doggedly loyal support of the Kremlin. It is turn in owned by gas giant Gazprom, of which the Russian state is the majority shareholder.
The change in leadership has been seen as an attempt to limit the independence of Ekho Moskvy and as the latest step in a broader clampdown on journalistic freedom, following the closure of outspoken state news service RIA Novosti and recent attacks on Rain TV, Russia’s only independent TV station.
Ekho Moskvy, a talk radio station which covers a wide rang of topics including politics, was founded in 1990 as Russia’s first independent radio station and came to prominence for its coverage of the August coup of 1991. It is the most popular radio station in the country and seen as highly influential.
Fedutinov, discussing his ousting with online news magazine Slon, suggested that the move against him was initiated by Mikhail Lesin, a former Kremlin advisor, who was appointed head of Gazprom Media in October. Lesin was a prominent figure in the battles over Russian media in the 1990s and 2000s and was instrumental in Gazprom’s takeover of NTV.
The remaining shares in Ekho Moskvy belong to the presenters themselves. Speaking to Interfax, president of the shareholders, Alexander Beryozin, said that no reason was given for the removal of Fedutinov. By all accounts, the station is in good financial health. Lesin refused to comment on the changes, saying he does not oversee Gazprom Media’s radio policy.
Despite the changes, Alexei Venediktov, the station’s respected editor-in-chief is bullish about the station’s independence. He described Fedutinov’s sacking as “unjust and dishonest” and told Interfax that: “While I am editor-in-chief then whoever the general director is, the editorial policy will remain unchanged,” he told Interfax. However, Venediktov will have to stand for re-election on 3 March and be approved by Gazprom Media.
Speaking to The Calvert Journal, an Ekho Moskvy presenter, Valery Nechay, said: “I believe that these changes have been initiated in the Kremlin and are a way of reminding the journalists [at Ekho Moskvy] that they are still dependent on Gazprom. Ekho is a profitable radio station and I do not see any reasons for these changes. Nothing would be done without the permission of the Kremlin. I believe that the situations with Rain TV and Ekho Moskvy are both part of a bigger game aimed at control Russia’s independent media.”
Rain TV has recently been criticised by Kremlin loyalists, and removed by cable providers, for a poll in which they suggested that the siege of Leningrad (now St Petersburg) during the war was a waste of human life. Likewise, United Russia deputies and pro-Kremlin bloggers have attacked Ekho Moskvy for publishing the opinions of one of its presenters, author Viktor Shenderovich, who compared the Sochi Olympic games to the Nazi Olympics of 1936.
The new appointment has already led to some changes in station policy: business daily Vedomosti reports that, as of today, Ekho Moskvy will no longer be able to sell advertising separately, but that its advertising department will be merged with that of other stations in the ProfMedia group also owned by Gazprom Media.