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Interview: REN-TV News Editor Explains Her Resignation

(RFE/RL) 6 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- In an exclusive interview given to RFE/RL's Russian Service, Yelena Fedorova explained her reasons for submitting her resignation as information service editor at Russia's REN-TV.

She told RFE/RL interviewer Anna Kachkaeva that her decision was motivated primarily by censorship on the part of the television station's management and its efforts to prevent her and fellow journalists from participating in editorial decisions.

Fedorova's action followed the resignation of REN-TV news anchorwoman Olga Romanova, whose news program "24" was shut down in late November. Romanova has claimed that the move came after she unsuccessfully attempted to air news segments that may have been frowned upon by the Kremlin.

REN-TV General Director Aleksandr Ordzhonikidze has denied that political considerations motivated the station's decision to cancel Romanova's program, saying the move was part of an effort to improve ratings.

REN-TV changed hands this year after the electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems (EES) sold its 70 percent stake in the company to the steel producer Severstal, which in turn sold a 35 percent stake to Russia's fourth-largest oil producer, Surgutneftegaz, in September. The Luxembourg-based RTL Group owns a 30 percent stake in REN-TV.

Prior to the deal, REN-TV had been widely considered the last remaining independent television station with a national reach. The station's new owners had said there would be no change in editorial policy.

RFE/RL: Lena, as far as I know, you have decided to leave the company. Why did you choose to leave? Have the stockholders and managers all been informed?

Yelena Fedorova: With my statement, I informed [General Director Aleksandr] Ordzhonikidze. I have not informed the stockholders, but I have no doubt that Mr. Ordzhnikidze will do that himself. I find that in the current situation it is impossible for me to work in our company. Things that are happening right now in [REN-TV's] information service [that] can directly lead to the disintegration of that which I have devoted eight years of my life. The people who have been sent to work here do not understand anything about information -- they have never worked in television -- and these are the people who monitor decisions concerning content and policy.

People who have worked to create this service -- including [deputy information service editor in chief] Sergei Taranov and myself -- have been barred from decision making. This has an immediate impact on our product. I don't want to be held accountable for this kind of product anymore. I don't want to be responsible for the missing stories or skewed content. This is why I am making this difficult decision.

RFE/RL: Has Mr. Ordzhonikidze somehow responded to this?

Fedorova: No, not at all. We have a modified means of communication with the company administration. We now communicate strictly through the chancellery. I have submitted my resignation due to my inability to fulfill my professional duty, but there has not yet been any response.

RFE/RL: Can you say what exact measures or actions taken by your superiors -- I understand that this is [Editor in Chief Ilya] Kuzmenkov and [Deputy Editor in Chief Nikolai] Popov -- forced you to do this?

Fedorova: Basically, we are barred from decision making as far as content is concerned. All decisions of this sort are made by Mr. Kuzmenkov and Mr. Popov. In addition to this, on Sunday [4 December], they cancelled a story on the elections in Kazakhstan. I cannot condone this. This is an issue that is becoming common practice -- stories are simply being taken off the air. As soon as Mr. Kuzmenkov and Mr. Popov came into our company, our viewers did not immediately learn that Olga Romanova's show ["24"] would no longer be featured on our channel. Instead, they got this from the radio or from other channels. I cannot condone this and this is why I've made my decision.

RFE/RL: Have you received any invitations or proposals from other companies or media?

Fedorova: I have received some proposals from other media, but first I would like to take a step back and take a look around. That is, to consider whether it really is possible for me to continue working with the news.

RFE/RL: What do you suppose will happen to the information service, and will who head it if you are released?

Fedorova: Mr. Ordzhonikidze made the last set of appointments based on personal loyalty and friendship. With the aforementioned gentlemen at the helm, I cannot expect much good to come out of the situation.

RFE/RL: If Mr. Ordzhonikidze and Mr. Kuzmenkov ask you to retain your post and you develop some sort of rules concerning their noninterference in your personal duties, would you stay?

Fedorova: I have already received a document summarizing the post of "information editor," in which it stated that all decisions, including personnel, are made by Mr. Kuzmenkov. Since Thursday morning [1 December], I have been asking for a set of instructions for my job: what rights and what responsibilities do I have? What are my powers? Unfortunately, I have yet been unable to obtain this mysterious document. I have doubts that Mr. Ordzhonikidze and Mr. Kuzmenkov have any desire to negotiate with me. The past week, during which I have worked to try to make sense of this situation, has only shown that they are quite unwilling to do so.

RFE/RL: How have your colleagues responded to your statement?

Fedorova: Terribly -- my colleagues are shocked. You see, we all worked together. This was a closely knit, self-made group of people who came here seven years ago and worked together in conditions that were not remotely comparable with any state channel. We, or at least the majority of us, are of one mindset, which is why people are devastated.

RFE/RL: Could this be the result of a very strong emotional reaction, both to the issue with Olga Romanova and to the removal of stories? You know very well that there are different managers out there and you've had to deal with conflicts in the past as well. Perhaps here you simply could not find a common language with your new management.

Fedorova: I do not exclude the possibility. It is another story, however, that for two months I have tried to negotiate and seek out a compromise solution, but I think the aggravation accumulated. In any case, I prefer dialogue to any sort of confrontation, and I always tried to go for dialogue -- even in the story with Olga Romaova, when we discussed whether she would return on air or not. It seems to me that management has to be on the side of the viewers, on the side of common sense, in the face of, perhaps, hard feelings and personal ambitions. In other words, management should have gone for negotiations. Unfortunately, this did not happen. In the end, we lost, and so did our viewers. In this situation, I am not as concerned for myself and my own ambitions, as much as I am for the fact that Olga Romanova's show has disappeared from [REN-TV's] lineup. This, I think, is the biggest loss.

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