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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: May 25, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Ekho Mosky Radio Show by Independent Journalist Albats Cancelled; Editor Venediktov 'Furious'
6 years
TV Rain Posts Stark Contrast Between Receptions at Home of Ukraine's Savchenko and Russia's GRU Officers

In yet another indication of Russia's vanishing press freedoms, a popular critical show by prominent independent journalist Yevgeniya Albats, editor of New Times, has been cancelled due to refusal of the host to sign a contract involving censorship, Open Russia reported.

The editor and journalists at Ekho Moskvy have rushed to explain the situation as their readers showered them with queries on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook -- all Western-developed social media sites where increasingly Russians have gone to have uncensored discussions.

First, Venediktov said he would get to the bottom of it: 

Then he posted an image of an angry cartoon character, which elicited a sharp comment from a reader who blamed him for the situation and criticized his recent mild posts.

Translation: This is me on the 'Albats Incident'.

He received pushback:

Translation: @Mary_Read_9 Ridiculous. For a whole month, you've been silent, and since others have written about this, you're suppoesd furious. But for a whole month you've been posting girls and Game of Thrones

Venediktov had a sharp comeback, evidently referring to the conservative military expert and journalist Igor Korotchenko:

Translation: Mary, I'm not Korotchenko after all, so as to post boys.

He then had a more serious comment: 

Translation: I am furious about the story with Albats.

Vladimir Varfolomeyev, the deputy editor of Ekho Moskvy commented: 

Translation: Regarding the 'Total Albats' program: the broadcast was NOT closed. But due to the lack of a contract, the host wasn't present. I hope she will return to the air soon.

Venediktov then had more details: 

Translation: The Administration has made a contract with censorship, but Albats didn't sign it.

Albats, who has been covering the prisoner exchange, has not posted any comment on Twitter or Facebook yet but did give a comment to Open Russia (translation by The Interpreter):

"The contract indicts that I do not have the right to ask questions that are not cleared with the general director, to raise topics that aren't cleared and so on. Again, I believe that these are questions for the editor-in-chief because he is the one to decide this issue. I'm the editor-in-chief of the New Times, for example, and I am the one to decide whether material goes in, in the end, or not and it's a secondary issue as to what it is worthy. I think that this question is for Venediktov. I think that he has enough power at Ekho Moskvy so that the contract with me would be signed which will not violate the law on the media, not violate the authorities of the editor-in-chief, and which does not contradict the Russian Constitution, which forbids censorship."

By holding Venediktov responsible, Albats may be indicating a sentiment held by other independent journalists that Venediktov, who admits that he takes phone calls from the Kremlin, may have become more accommodating to the government.

Last year, Venediktov was embroiled in a major controversy at Ekho Moskvy, when one of his reporters, Aleksandr Plyushchev tweeted a sarcastic remark about the death of the son of Sergei Ivanov, chief of the presidential staff and close associate of Putin. Government officials called for Plyushchev's head.

At that time, Venediktov had to negotiate with the late Mikhail Lesin, who at that time was still head of Gazprom Media, the media corporation of the Russian state gas monopoly and majority owner of Ekho Moskvy. (Lesin was found dead under mysterious circumstances in a Washington, DC hotel in November 2015; by that time he had already stepped down from the Gazprom position.) 

After tense negotiations for days, during which rumors circulated that Venediktov himself would be fired by the Ekho Moskvy board, ultimately Plyushchev was only put on leave but not fired, and Venediktov remained - but with a pledge to create a "code of conduct" for the radio. The drafting of this document was taken by his assistant at the time, Lesya Ryabtseva, who cooperated with government experts in the process.

This and other incidents earned sharp criticism from Russian journalists. Ryabtseva ultimately resigned to work on other media projects, and confessed in sensational interviews that she had conspired with pro-Kremlin propagandist Konstantin Rykov to deliberately infiltrate and spy on Ekho Moskvy and hack their servers. She said they should expect "criminal cases" soon.

Albats, who has been covering the prisoner exchange, has not yet commented directly on Facebook or Twitter about the censorship and the contract, but gave this comment to Open Russia: 

"The contract indicts that I do not have the right to ask questions that are not cleared with the general director, to raise topics that aren't cleared and so on. Again, I believe that these are questions for the editor-in-chief because he is the one to decide this issue. I'm the editor-in-chief of the New Times, for example, and I am the one to decide whether material goes in, in the end, or not and it's a secondary issue as to what it is worthy. I think that this question is for Venediktov. I think that he has enough power at Ekho Moskvy so that the contract with me would be signed which will not violate the law on the media, not violate the authorities of the editor-in-chief, and which does not contradict the Russian Constitution, which forbids censorship."

Open Russia then obtained more details from Venediktov:


"I confirm this [that Albats was offered a contract with censor restrictions--Open Russia]. I can also add that I am absolutely furious at this, because there has not, is not and will not be censorship at Ekho Moskvy. I understand Yevgeniya Markovna [Albats' patronymic]. I unfortunately learned about the presence of such elements in the contract late last week, and I will do everything in the remaining days so that Yevgeniya Markovna returns to the air on June 1.

Under the charter of Ekho Moskvy, Ltd. the editor-in-chief is responsible for editorial policy. All the restrictions and additions to the rights and duties of the journalists is my affair, and not that of the general director. Here, as with the story of Aleksandr Plyushchev, we see intrusion into the competency of the editor-in-chief.

Naturally I do not accept the contract in this form and believe that it cannot be signed in this form since it significantly influences editorial policy.
There is an introduction of a prohibition on mentioning topics not cleared, as it is written in the contract, and information that is not cleared....I want to ask: cleared with whom? It doesn't have to be cleared with me. Or, for example, to not air text violating commonly-accepted norms of morality. Or not to air swear words and expressions in any language. What are swear expressions? The word "goat" -- is that a swear word?

I am categorically against this [a prohibition], I have initiated the creation of a legal group with representatives of the administration and the editorial bird and have asked Gazprom-media, our shareholder, to take part in this legal group so that the contract is subjected to re-working and is accepted by the administration, Yevgeny Albats, the editor-in-chief, and the laws of the Russian Federation.

Therefore, I am furious: I have lost the program of a journalist whom I invited on the air. If there appear other such contracts they will also e subject to correction."

It's not clear which programs may have irritated the authorities although Albats has been reporting extensively on the Panama Papers and recently on the pressure on RBC managers and editors.

Venediktov himself tweeted a link to her last program that may have angered Russian intelligence:


Translation: Albats: Much of the land that was owned by FSB [Federal Security Service] agents, and then ended up outside the fatherland was in all kinds of offshores. 

Albats also wrote about the criminal investigation of RBC's manager -- which no other outlet covered.


The importance -- and controversy -- of the show is summed up in the title the editors gave it: "Pol'ny Albats," or "Total Albats."

To understand the punch of this title for Russians, some explanation is needed. Yevgeniya's last name "Albats" ends in "ts". It reminds people of a swear word in Russian with the same ending, "pizdets" which could be translated as "fucked-up situation" or literally "cuntery." The word is often used by Russians in a bound phrase "pol'ny pizdets" (totally fucked up) to indicate an expression of shock or surprise or a kind of Russian FUBAR.

The other background information that is important to understand relates to Ekho Moskvy's general director -- a figure who in theory would be only involved with the business side of a media outlet but who in Russia can interfere with editorial decisions.

Yekaterina Pavlova is the wife of Aleksey Pavlov, a deputy head of the President's Office for Press and Information; his boss is the well-recognized Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. She is said to be close to Margarita Simonyan, the head of RT, and others involved in managing state media. 

Lesin's replacement at Gazprom media is Dmitry Chernyshenko, organizer of the Sochi Olympics and manager of the Volga Group, which handles the assets of Gennady Timchenko, an oligarch who is a close associate of Putin's, placed on the US sanctions list for his role in sponsoring the annexation of Crimea.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick