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Published in Stream:
Russa Update: November 15, 2014
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
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Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow), a radio station and web site that has tried to maintain its independence for years, despite 66% ownership by the Gazprom-Media, the Russia state gas monopoly's media arm, is now in jeopardy.

After a series of incidents provoking the state censors and high officials, there is growing pressure on Ekho to conform to the Kremlin's increasingly repressive media guidelines.

Alexey Venediktov, Ekho's editor-in-chief fears dismissal after an incident in which one of his reporters insulted a top official grieving for his son.

The controversy involves an ill-advised tweet by Yevgeny Plyushchev, in which he implied that "God's justice" was done when Aleksandr Ivanov, the son of Kremlin chief Sergei Ivanov, drowned last week in Saudia Arabia. In 2005, Aleksandr had struck and killed a pedestrian, but charges against him were dropped. Mikhail Lesin, chairman of the board of Gazrpom-Media ordere Plyushchev dismissed after Venediktov refused to fire him himself.

Ekho has faced mounting interference from the Kremlin, as earlier this year opposition bloggers like anti-corruption crusader Aleksei Navalny had to be dropped when Roskomnadzor, the state censorship agency issued an order to block their pages or suffer blockage of the whole website.

And a controversial radio program about the battle for the Donetsk Airport also earned Ekho a warning of investigation on charges of "extremism."

Venediktov said that dismissing Plyushchev violated Ekho Moskvy's charter, under which he alone could approve of dismissals. He does not consider that Plyushchev has been fired, and has put him on leave until the resolution of the issue at a November 21 board meeting of Gazprom-Media.

Now Venediktov himself believes he, too, is in danger of being fired, as he said in an interview with Open Russia,

But late in the evening of November 15 Moscow time, Lesin said "There is an option that the conflict will be resolved peacefully -- the sides are formulating a mutually-acceptable position. I for my part confirm that I have no aggressive aim in itself to fire Venediktov," RIA Novosti quoted Lesin as saying.

Lesin said he had proposed to Venediktov sending Plyushchev on a long leave:

Announce publicly that Plyushchev is going off the air for two months, is being re-educated, that the editors will take all efforts to correct the moral image of Plyushchev. Maybe that's pointless, but at least say that.

Plyushchev displayed a letter on Twitter asking permission to take leave but only until December 7, after the decision of the "labor inspection" about the legality of his dismissal. Venediktov hand-wrote "Agreed" and signed it dated November 15.

Translation:  They made a mistake with the date, excuse me. I destroyed it. Here is the right paper.

Lesin had suggested that Plyushchev take a two-month, not two-week leave.

In an earlier interview with Novaya Gazeta, Lesin said that he "didn't dispute that the firing of Plyushhev was unlawful” but that he felt the tweet was a disgrace, and being a liberal journalist didn’t exonerate the offender.

Lesin said Venediktov "put him in an awkward situation" with the shareholders, but denied it was a political matter even while making a candid remark about Venediktov's political skills:

Venediktov was always to me a smart and talented politician, who for many years maneuvered his way between the shareholders and political forces. He was convenient for everyone. All these myths that he is superdemocratic and liberal, leave them to yourself. But the situation with Plyushchev really surprised me. I didn't understand what was going on with Venediktov.

Venediktov posted a picture to Instagram, commenting, "here's my week ahead...I'm cutting through...


Plyushchev, for his part was happy to hear that Lesin admitted his dismissal violated Ekho's charter:

Translation: Mikhail Lesin says in an interview that my firing from Ekho was unlawful.

Sergei Dorenko, a popular host on Ekho, tweeted sardonic support of Venediktov:

Translation:  Stop burying Venediktov. He and Ekho are a very important part of the modern Russian world system on par with kholodets and tea from bags.

Kholodets is a traditional Russian delicacy made of jellied calves' feet usually abhorred by foreigners; tea-bags are a more recent, modern invention that some Russians, used to loose tea leaves, find a travesty.

But Dorenko had a word of caution for Plyushchev, having had his own battles:

Translation:  I would consider beating Lesin not without danger, he is a...heavy guy with a long memory ) )

Plyushchev replied that the "threats had started," and Plyushchev countered:

Translation: threats? The simple observation of a young naturalist leaning over the aquarium ) )

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick