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Ekho Moskvy Chief Alleges Censorship In Cancellation Of Putin Critic's Show

Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov (left) has pointed the finger at the radio station's general director, Yekaterina Pavlova (right).
Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov (left) has pointed the finger at the radio station's general director, Yekaterina Pavlova (right).

The editor in chief of Ekho Moskvy radio, one of Russia's most prominent independent-minded media outlets, says a popular talk show hosted by a searing Kremlin critic has been pulled off the air due to censorship by the station's management.

The comments by Aleksei Venediktov come amid mounting concerns that the authorities are stepping up efforts to curtail hard-hitting investigative reporting and dissenting voices anywhere in the Russian media.

He announced on May 25 that a politically themed talk show hosted by Yevgenia Albats, a prominent journalist who is also editor of a weekly magazine that has investigated President Vladimir Putin's friends and family, had been taken off the air.

"I can confirm that the Yevgenia Albats' program has not been on Ekho Moskvy since May 1 due to the absence of a contract between the host and the general director."

Venediktov later said in a series of Tweets and interviews with Russian websites that Albats had refused to sign a contract with the station's general manager due to restrictions that included preapproval of all the questions she would be able to ask.

"I am furious," he told the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets.

Ekho Moskvy's broadcasts and web reports are widely followed in Moscow and a handful of other large cities. Under Venediktov, who is well-connected among Russia's ruling elite, the station has largely managed to maintain its independence, despite being owned by state-run energy giant Gazprom.

In an interview later in the day with Open Russia, an opposition website founded by once-jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Venediktov criticized the station manager.

"Under Ekho Moskvy's charter, it is the editor in chief exclusively who is responsible for editorial policy. All restrictions and additions to the rights and obligations of the journalists are my business, not that of the general director," he said.

Venediktov, who is a towering figure among Russia's journalism circles, did not immediately respond to a message from RFE/RL seeking further comment.

It wasn't immediately clear what prompted the conflict between Albats, a veteran journalist who is fiercely critical of Putin, and the station's general manager, Yekaterina Pavlova. Albats' magazine, The New Times, has published several investigations into corruption among government officials and the personal lives of Putin's daughters.

Albats, meanwhile, told Open Russia that the contract limited what questions she could ask, and suggested that Venediktov was not doing enough to support her position.

"I think that he has enough authority at Ekho Moskvy so that a contract could be signed that doesn't violate Russian laws on mass media, that don't violate the authority of the editor-in-chief, that don't end up contradicting the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which forbids censorship," she told the site.

Pavlova, who did not appear to make any public statement, could not be immediately reached for comment.

In a story on its own website, Ekho Moskvy said this was at least the second time in recent years that Pavlova has pressured one of its on-air journalists.

Russian media outlets have been repeatedly squeezed since Vladimir Putin first assumed the presidency in 2000.

Early in his first term, Putin oversaw the shuttering of leading independent national television channel NTV, which was taken over by Gazprom. Legislation passed by the State Duma in 2014 restricted foreign ownership of media outlets, affecting some of the country's most respected publications.

Other independent outlets have also come under pressure. The RBC media group, which has published investigative stories that linked Putin's daughter to a government-backed development project, saw its top editors resign en masse earlier this month after disputes with the company's management.

The resignations were widely seen as the result of pressure from the authorities, who had conducted a series of tax and other investigations into the company, which was bought in 2010 by billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov.

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