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Ekho Moskvy Plans Social Media Rules For Journalists, Sparking Outcry

Critics fear editor in chief Aleksei Venediktov's (left) Ekho Moskvy will back down in its criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin's government.
Critics fear editor in chief Aleksei Venediktov's (left) Ekho Moskvy will back down in its criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin's government.

Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio station says it is drafting rules for its employees’ behavior on social media after its state-controlled owner pressured the broadcaster over a journalist's message on Twitter.

Lesya Ryabtseva, a journalist and assistant to Ekho Moskvy editor in chief Aleksei Venediktov, has confirmed in an interview with RFE/RL that she is overseeing the drafting of the rules.

Ryabtseva said similar measures will be imposed upon journalists who work for other outlets of Gazprom Media, the state-owned entertainment giant that holds a controlling stake in Ekho Moskvy.

Earlier in November, Gazprom Media chief Mikhail Lesin ordered the dismissal of Ekho Moskvy host Aleksandr Plyushchev for posting a message to Twitter about the death of a son of President Vladimir Putin's chief of staff.

After the Gazprom Media chief’s meeting with Ekho Moskvy employees last week, Lesin withdrew that order and canceled a snap vote by the broadcaster’s board of directors on removing Venediktov from his post.

Ryabtseva said the implementation of the social-media rules was agreed upon at the meeting as part of a broader compromise to resolve the conflict.

The moves against Ekho Mosvky, which has faced repeated pressure from Russian officials over news coverage often at odds with the official Kremlin line, has alarmed many in Russia who fear one of the country’s most doggedly independent media outlets could be strangled under the guise of a corporate dispute.

A blog posted late on November 23 by Ryabtseva about the planned social-media rules sparked immediate, angry online reactions from Russian journalists about the prospects that the rules eventually could be forced upon all Russian media.

Ryabtseva wrote in her blog that the ultimate goal is to create social-media rules for "any and all journalists" in Russia, though she did not specify any plans to extend the rules beyond Gazprom Media’s assets.

Ryabtseva told RFE/RL that she did not mean to suggest that other Russian media would be compelled to adopt the new policy.

"I said that the rules that we are creating for Ekho Moskvy will be used internally at the Gazprom Media holding. It means that other radio stations and other editorial offices can use it and implement it in their own regulations," she said.

Also raising concerns in the Russian Twitter and blog sphere was Ryabtseva’s announcement that she was involved in drafting a Russian media law seen by rights defenders as another move by the Kremlin to curb freedom of expression.

That legislation, known widely as the “Law On Bloggers,” came into effect on August 1.

It requires bloggers with more than 3,000 daily readers to register with Russia’s mass media regulator, Roskomnadzor, and to conform to the regulations that govern Russia's traditional media outlets.

Ryabtseva said in her blog that she was seeking help on Gazprom Media’s new social media rules from "all of my friends that I worked on the ‘Law On Bloggers’ with," including representatives of Roskomnadzor and Russia’s Communications Ministry.

Journalist Pavel Pryanikov replied in a Twitter message, "So they’ve decided to use the Ekho Mosvky platform to create a second Roskomnadzor," adding an expletive to underscore his disbelief.

Ryabtseva told RFE/RL that she was referring to an April meeting between senior officials responsible for the legislation and a group of representatives from media outlets and Internet companies that she referred to as an "Internet commission."

Ryabtseva wrote about that meeting, which was attended by First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, in an April 25 blog entry.

She said critics ignored the parts of her announcement stating that the planned social-media rules will not infringe on free speech.

"Unfortunately, people who want to see something different did see something different. They didn’t see my words about free speech," she said.

"They saw what I wrote about the ‘Law On Bloggers’ and about restrictions I am preparing and want to implement. That’s not the case. But there’s nothing I can do about that.”

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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