Perhaps we are “back in the USSR” again, to quote the Beatles.
In a posting on the Kremlin’s website on Monday, Dec. 8, Russian President Vladimir Putin decreed that the Russian International News Agency – RIA-Novosti – a leading Russian state-run news conglomerate, will be “eliminated.”
“In order to increase the effectiveness of public media.”
And in its place, Putin created a new media entity, “Russia Today,” naming as its director Dmitry Kiselyov. Kiselyov, according to BuzzFeed, is one of, if not the most, profoundly anti-Western, pro-Putin “journalist” currently operating in Russia. He is also viciously anti-gay in a way that goes beyond mere homophobia. Last year Kiselyov told a Russian TV audience that banning gays from distributing propaganda to children was not sufficient.
“I think they 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 unsuitable for the continuation of life,” was Kiselyov’s position, as reported by BuzzFeed.
In the years following the extreme media repression which characterized the Soviet Union era-policies, there has been a slow but perceptible growth in Russian media to engage in actual reporting. While the Russian media never had the freedoms enjoyed by the Western press, RIA-Novosti in particular had become a trusted news source for at least certain kinds of information about what was happening in Russia.
RIA-Novosti extensively covered the growing protests in the Ukraine. The Ukranian protesters oppose their government’s recent turn away from the West and towards Russia.
A report from the Associated Press on Monday quoted a spokesperson for the Ukranian Opposition who said that its headquarters in Kiev had been “stormed by authorities.”
Since Putin returned to the presidency in 2012, following his four-year term limit-required hiatus, he has been implementing increasingly stringent controls over various aspects of life, including curtailing the slowly developing press freedoms.
Putin’s latest repressive act coincides with increasing reports about Putin’s diminishing popularity.
The decree abolishing RIA-Novosti states that it will be completely dissolved in three months. There was no word on whether the many thousands of its employees will have a future at the new media empire Putin is creating. Certainly they will be required to practice a very different form of journalism if they do.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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