Liberal radio vows no editorial change despite board reshuffle

RIA Novosti / Denis Grishkin
Gazprom-Media holding demands that the board on one of its leading assets, Ekho Moskvy radio, resign ahead of term. The station editor-in-chief says the changes will not affect editorial policy, which involves relentless criticism of the authorities.

Ekho Moskvy editor-in-chief, well-known Russian journalist Aleksei Venediktov personally broke the news through his Twitter on Tuesday morning. He wrote that Gazprom-Media demands the early resignation of the board of directors, with the removal of Venediktov himself and his deputy Vladimir Varfolomeyev from the board. Venediktov reported the news in cheerful tone, noting that he will gladly let someone else do the bureaucratic part of his work. He confirmed he would remain editor-in-chief, and that editorial policy will not change.

Later in the day, Ekho Moskvy issued an official release on its website, again stressing that editorial policy will remain the same and will be based on Russian laws and principles of common benefit.

The news caused an uproar in the media, which immediately recalled a recent conversation between Venediktov and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The premier and presidential candidate accused Ekho Moskvy of “pouring diarrhea” over him day and night, hinting that the station appears to be taking orders from abroad, despite being a Russian business asset.

The management reshuffle drew a comment from Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov. “This cannot be connected with Putin’s criticism of the radio. So far I do not know what happened exactly, but most likely it is a corporate affair, and the comments must be from the company owners,” RIA Novosti news agency quoted Peskov as saying.

“It is not a secret to anybody that Putin has always been a target of this station’s criticism, and remains so to this day. He never minds objective criticism, but he himself has always criticized the radio for non-constructive and biased criticism. With regret I have to state that such criticism often becomes dominant on Ekho Moskvy. However, this has never been an obstacle for normal business-like communication between Putin and the heads of the radio station. Everyone knows that Putin and Venediktov always exchange opinions with maximum sincerity and in different formats on all urgent problems,” Peskov wrote in his personal blog on the Ekho Moskvy webpage. “I am sure, if you ask Venediktov himself if the recent process was connected with the criticism of Putin, the answer will be no,” he concluded.

Gazprom’s spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov has told the press that the changes in the Ekho Moskvy’s board of directors was a “working moment without politics.”

Gazprom Media is the media outlet of the Russian state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom. The company controls about 66 per cent of Ekho Moskvy’s stock. The rest reportedly belongs to the journalists who work on the station, with a package of up to 18 per cent belonging to Venediktov personally. Ekho Moskvy is the oldest independent talk radio in modern Russia, and one of the most popular. However, in the past few years its popularity has gradually declined, mostly due to strong competition from similar projects.