State-owned news agency RIA Novosti is to be shut down and replaced by a new media outlet, according to a decree signed by President Vladimir Putin and published on the Kremlin’s website this morning. The new arrangements will see RIA Novosti and the Voice of Russia radio station merged to form a new media organisation, Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today). The aim of the new agency will be to “cover Russian state policy and public life in the Russian Federation”.
Sergei Ivanov, head of the president’s administration, told press the move was to make “more rational use of public money”. He added: “Russia is following its own policy and firmly defending its national interests. It’s not easy to explain this to the world, but it can and must be done.”
Despite being state-owned, RIA Novosti has earned a reputation for independent and balanced reporting including on sensitive issues such as the anti-government protests that rocked Moscow in 2011 and 2012. BBC’s Moscow Correspondent Daniel Sanford said on Twitter: “RIA Novosti was an outlier. I guess the Kremlin doesn’t like outliers … The staff at RIA Novosti covered all the controversial topics of recent years without the absurd spin put on by state TV.”
In a further twist, the Kremlin has also appointed the ultra-conservative TV presenter Dmitry Kiselyov as head of the new organisation. Kiselyov recently made global headlines for his remarks on the law banning homosexual propaganda. Speaking in a television debate in 2012, he said that gay people “should be banned from donating blood or sperm, and if they die in a car crash, their hearts should be burnt or buried in the ground as they are unsuitable for the continuation of life”.
Writing about their dissolution on their own website, RIA Novosti said: “The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape, which appear to point towards a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.”
In an interview with Kommersant FM radio, Nikolai Svanidze, a journalist and member of the presidential human rights committee, saw clear political motivations behind the decision: “Evidently it was decided in the Kremlin that the leash is too long, or doesn’t exist at all, that the management of this structure are expressing their positions of protest and now, especially with what’s going on in Kiev, when the Kremlin are responding more emotionally to anything political, it is necessary to shorten this leash somehow and make this structure more reliable.”
Although the new organisation will have the same name as the English-language TV news channel, the two are not connected. The head of the Russia Today (RT) channel, Margarita Simonyan, told news site Lenta.ru that she only found out about the agency from news reports on Monday morning.