Vladimir Putin Just Replaced Russia's Best State-Run News Outlet With a State-Run PR Firm

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 9 2013 11:44 AM

Vladimir Putin Just Replaced Russia's Best State-Run News Outlet With a State-Run PR Firm

453085777
Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks as he attends signing ceremony together with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarksian in Yerevan, on December 2, 2013

Photo by Karen Minasyan/AFP/Getty Images

Of all the state-owned media outlets in Russia, RIA Novosti stood largely alone in its willingness to challenge the Kremlin. I use the past-tense there because, as of today, the well-known and relatively well-respected news wire is no longer. In a surprise move even by Russian standards, Vladimir Putin announced this morning that the government is shuttering RIA Novosti and replacing it with a new state-run outlet that will serve largely as a PR firm for the government—or, in Putin's own words, "to highlight abroad the state policy and public life of the Russian Federation."

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

The Kremlin is framing the media reorganization—which will also shutter Voice of Russia radio—as an effort to cut costs and make "more rational use of public money." But as RIA Novosti, reporting on its own demise, more accurately put it: the changes "appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector." As a state-run media outlet, RIA Novosti still had to tread carefully when covering the government that paid its bills but it nonetheless "made the greatest attempt to produce balanced coverage in recent years," according to BBC Moscow correspondent Daniel Sandford.

Advertisement

The move appears to have come out of nowhere. RIA Novosti is (or, I suppose was) an official sponsor of the Sochi Winter Olympics, and there was no public debate or even hint that the move was coming before today's official decree. Much of its staff was apparently unaware they'd be out of a job until the news was published on a government website.

"Rossiya Segodnya" translates to "Russia Today," the original name of the highly questionable Kremlin-funded, English-language television station since rebranded as RT. The network is known for what the New York Times calls its "jaundiced view of the failings of the United States and other Western countries." (Putin made no mention of the English-language network in today's announcement.)

In case there weren't enough red flags already, Putin named Dmitry Kiselyov as the head of the new media outlet. (The new agency’s directors will be directly appointed by the president's office.) For those unfamiliar with Kiselyov, he's made a career as a pro-Putin propagandist who sees foreign conspiracies against Moscow almost anywhere he looks. His most infamous comments, however, were made last year about gays and lesbians. "I think it is too little to fine gays for homosexual propaganda," Kiselyov said during one of his TV appearances. "They should be forbidden from donating blood, sperm. And in the case of an automobile accident, their hearts should be buried in the ground or burned."

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 17 2014 1:33 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Senior editor David Haglund shares what intrigued him at the magazine. 
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Space: The Next Generation
Oct. 19 2014 11:45 PM An All-Female Mission to Mars As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.