Russian radio station comes under pressure

February 14, 2012 - 3:25 PM
Russia Media Freedom

Alexey Venediktov , editor-in-chief of Echo of Moscow (Ekho Moskvy) radio station speaks to The Associated Press Television in his office in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012. Venediktov claims that a Kremlin-controlled media holding that owns two thirds of the radio is seeking to reshuffle Ekho's management to stop its critical coverage of the March 4 presidential vote. Russia's oldest independent radio state has for years been critical of Kremlin's policies. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

MOSCOW (AP) — The editor of Russia's leading independent radio station said Tuesday that its management is being changed in an effort to restrict on-air criticism of the government ahead of the March 4 presidential election.

The media arm of state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom, which holds two-thirds of the shares, is tightening its hold over the board of directors, editor Alexei Venediktov said.

Gazprom Media took the action after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last month accused the station of serving the foreign policy interests of the United States and "pouring diarrhea" on him all day. Putin is seeking to return to the presidency by winning the election.

Ekho Moskvy, or Echo of Moscow, has long been among the few news outlets to provide air time to Putin's harshest critics and it has provided full coverage of the anti-Putin protests that began in December.

Shortly after coming to power in 2000, Putin imposed state control over all national television stations. As part of that process, Ekho Moskvy was passed into the hands of Gazprom, but Venediktov has retained full editorial independence.

The station has served as a safety valve for Moscow's liberal elite, but as opposition to Putin grows, the government may see it as posing too big a threat.

Venediktov announced Tuesday that Gazprom Media was removing two independent directors from the nine-person board and that he and his deputy were resigning their board seats in protest. The journalists own the remaining 34 percent of shares.

"I consider it a clear attempt to change editorial policies," Venediktov said.