Russia's islands of media freedom are under attack
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev says management changes at a radio station were ordered by the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin. Mr. Gorbachev worries other news outlets could be next.
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"We understand that Gazprom-Media could not fail to respond to the criticism of high officials of the Russian Federation on our radio station," he said. In a tough on-air exchange between Putin and Venediktov last month, the Russian prime minister accused Ekho Moskvi of "serving the foreign policy interests of one state (against) Russia."Skip to next paragraph
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When Venediktov became indignant at that suggestion, Putin shot back, "You’re offended, I feel. As for me, I’m not offended when you sling mud at me from dawn to dusk. Here I’ve just said two words and you got offended."
Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, insisted that "Putin has no complaints with objective criticism," according to the independent Interfax agency. But, he said, Putin does become upset when criticism is "unconstructive, biased and prejudiced … We note with regret that such criticism has become increasingly dominant on Ekho Moskvi."
Too hot to handle?
The removal of Ms. Sobchak's talk show, entitled Gosdep (State Department), could be another case of Kremlin interference or it might just be that her controversial political format was too hot for the international music TV network MTV to handle.
One show last week featured several top opposition leaders who've been banned from major Russian TV channels, including Boris Nemtsov and frequently imprisoned left-wing street leader Sergei Udaltsov in a freewheeling political discussion.
Sobchak says the last straw for the network came when she invited anti-corruption crusader and opposition leader Alexei Navalny to participate in a discussion about nationalism.
"Despite the fact that our program was enjoying much higher ratings than most shows (on MTV) and it had caused great resonance, it has been removed from the air without explanation," Sobchak told Ekho Moskvi on Tuesday. "I know that our show was a great success, it was good journalism and interesting material. There's just no reason to shut down such a program."
An uncertain future
Mr. Gorbachev, who has grown increasingly critical of Putin in recent months, said Wednesday that the turmoil at Ekho Moskvi is definitely happening on Kremlin orders.
"I have no doubts about it," he said. "I am ashamed this is happening here. It's a democratic radio station, and we appreciate what it's doing."
Gorbachev is part owner of Novaya Gazeta, the combative weekly newspaper that has seen five of its journalists murdered in recent years.
"We do feel the pressure," says Andrei Kolesnikov, opinion editor of Novaya Gazeta. "Ekho Moskvi is a critical channel for the truth in our society, and we worry about what will happen to it and about this atmosphere that's being whipped up around the elections. What will become of us all after the elections, well, no one can predict that right now."
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