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Putin Preaches Free-Press Gospel At State-Run Media Forum

President Vladimir Putin's comments come at a time when his administration appears to be turning the screws on independent media outlets in Russia.
President Vladimir Putin's comments come at a time when his administration appears to be turning the screws on independent media outlets in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told a media forum in Moscow that information should not be subject to "repressive actions," comments that come amid mounting signs that his government is stepping up efforts to curtail dissenting voices in the Russian media.

Putin told the June 7 conference sponsored by the state-run media behemoth Rossiya Segodnya that "information should be objective from all viewpoints and should not be subjected to any repressive actions with the goal of correcting it."

He also appeared to lob a thinly veiled accusation of hypocrisy at Western officials, suggesting that "some authorities" voice support for media freedoms when it serves their interests and dismiss information they dislike as "propaganda."

Russian authorities have steadily tightened control over the national media -- and television in particular -- during Putin's 16 years in power, including through forced ownership changes, the replacement of key editorial personnel, or simply squeezing them off the airwaves.

Since the beginning of Putin's third presidential term in 2012, international rights groups and Western governments have criticized what they describe as an escalating effort by the Kremlin to rein in reporting critical of the government.

The RBC media group, which has published investigative stories on Putin's family and wealthy associates, 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 authorities, who had conducted a series of tax and other investigations into the company.

'Search For Truth'

Addressing the June 7 media forum, Putin said journalism "is the search for truth" and that "the truth and objectivity of information remain the most important thing."

"Of course, it is important for the representatives of authorities in all countries of the world to ensure the freedom of dissemination of information," he said.

While Putin voiced support for media freedoms, he and other top officials have long accused Western governments and media outlets of attempts to destabilize the country with critical reporting.

In April, Rossiya Segodnya chief and television anchor Dmitry Kiselyov held up a copy of RBC's newspaper and accused the holding of helping the United States with its deep coverage of the Panama Papers financial-document leak, in which Putin's friends and allies figure.

Putin himself in April called the Panama Papers leak a "provocation" by "employees of official U.S. institutions."

Concerning the sponsor of the conference, which was titled A New Era Of Journalism: Farewell To The Mainstream, Putin said he hopes Rossiya Segodnya "will continue, as it has in previous years, to objectively tell about our country's foreign and domestic policy" and about the "attractive" investment climate of the Russian economy, which has been hit hard by flagging oil prices and Western sanctions.

Rossiya Segodnya replaced Russia's major state-run news agency RIA Novosti, which was dissolved in a 2013 decree by Putin and folded into the new media conglomerate. The move was widely seen as a Kremlin push to consolidate its messaging in the state-run media.

'I Know Everything About Myself'

During Putin's visit to the Rossiya Segodnya headquarters on June 7, German journalist Hubert Seipel presented him with a book he wrote about the Russian president.

Putin, a fluent German speaker whose KGB service landed him in East Germany for five years that included the fall of the Berlin Wall, spoke briefly with Seipel in the author's native language.

He reportedly said that he has never read any book about himself because "I know everything about myself."

Speaking to reporters in Russian, Putin said he warned Seipel that the author would face backlash back home if he wrote the book "objectively" -- an apparent dig at alleged bias about him in Germany. "And if he wrote it like they wanted him to [in Germany], then everything will be fine."

With reporting by TASS and RIA Novosti
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