Putin dissolves state news agency, tightens grip on media

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Vladimir Putin tightened his hold on Russia’s media yesterday by dissolving the main state news agency, seen by hawks as too liberal, and creating a new outlet to improve Moscow’s image under a more conservative editor.

The abolition of RIA Novosti, as well as international radio station Voice of Russia, and establishment of a news agency to be called Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today) is part of efforts to strengthen the president’s authority after protests against him.

It is also designed to improve Russia’s international standing after growing Western criticism of its record on human rights and democracy, and accusations, which it denies, of bullying neighbours such as Ukraine.

Political analyst Pavel Salin said the decision was probably a result of Kremlin turf wars and a victory for the conservatives. It sidelines liberal RIA Novosti Chief Editor Svetlana Mironyuk and promotes a TV presenter accused of making homophobic remarks on air to lead the new agency.

“I expect a sharp ideological turn now towards much more hawkish reporting under the even closer eye of the Kremlin and directed at the West,” Salin said after the move was set out of a decree signed by Putin.

A source close to the government said Mironyuk had sought a degree of independence and her removal was a political act. Maxim Shevchenko, a pro-Putin TV presenter, said on Twitter that a “nest of anti-Russian media forces” had been destroyed.

Most Russian media organisations are loyal to Putin, and opponents get little air time. The shake-up underlined the media’s importance to Putin keeping power and the Kremlin’s concern about the president’s ratings and image.

The Kremlin acted swiftly though RIA Novosti is the national host news agency and photo pool for the Sochi Winter Olympics in February. It was not clear what impact this would have on the Games. Employees said they had not expected the move.

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