Fears for journalistic freedoms as editor of news website Lenta replaced

Fears for journalistic freedoms as editor of news website Lenta replaced

12 March 2014
Text Nadia Beard

The editor-in-chief of Russian news website Lenta, Galina Timchenko has stepped down from her post, according to Lenta’s own website. From 12 March, Alexei Goreslavsky, the current deputy director general of communications, will take over the role. Lenta had gained a reputation as a bastion of liberalism, and this change has been seen as part of a series of attacks on journalistic independence.

In a statement released today by Lenta employees, 69 editors and journalist at the news website accuse Goreslavsky, formerly editor of pro-government Vzglyad newspaper, of being a Kremlin appointee and suggest that the dismissal of Timchenko is an illegal act of censorship. Most of the employees who signed the statement resigned from Lenta shortly after the statement was published.

“Over the last couple of years the space for free journalism in Russia has dramatically decreased,” the statement reads. “Some publications are controlled directly by the Kremlin, others — through curators and others — by editors who fear losing their jobs. Some media outlets have now closed. Others will be closing in the coming months. The problem now is not that we have nowhere to work. The problem is that you will have nothing else to read,” the statement reads.

Timchenko worked for Lenta since its inception in 1999, becoming editor-in-chief in 2004. On Lenta’s facebook page, Timchenko wrote: “Thank you for being with us. It was fun for almost 15 years.” According to Timchenko, the decision to replace her as editor was initiated by the owner of Lenta’s parent company media company Afisha-Rambler-SUP, Alexander Mamut. Mamut, an influential figure in the Kremlin and alleged longtime friend of President Vladimir Putin, is a big player in the publishing and broadcasting industries, with the bookshop Waterstones, social networking website LiveJournal and Afisha-Rambler-SUP some of his many thriving businesses.

Social media has been awash with comments regarding the news website’s change of leadership, with many Facebook and Twitter users decrying the end of objective media in Russia. An employee at culture magazine Afisha, also owned by Mamut, wrote about Goreslavsky on his Facebook page: “He’s an idiot, whose job has been to go and make friends with the Kremlin. You can fire me if you want.”

In a similar vein, Russia’s biggest state-owned news agency RIA Novosti is now in the final phase of liquidation, cutting one third of its staff. Following the decision to shut the news agency down in December last year, President Putin authorised the creation of a new channel Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today), with some of RIA’s staff set to transfer to the new channel once it has been established. Approximately 1,000 employees — nearly half of the 2,300 members of staff at RIA Novosti — will be leaving the news agency, with many of those choosing not to join Rossiya Segodnya due to ideological differences with the new channel.

Rain TV, Russia’s only independent news channel, is also set to close down in the next two months, with 80% of its funding recently slashed. The channel was dropped from major cable operators due to a controversial poll conducted by Rain TV leading to widespread criticism of the channel. Management at Rain TV has since claimed that the news channel fell victim to an overarching crusade by the Kremlin to control all media outlets in the country.