The state-run RIA Novosti media company on Monday denied that one of its outlets had been ordered to “soften” or limit the publication of articles from foreign media critical of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the ruling United Russia party.
“The editorial management of RIA Novosti has given no instructions to soften headlines concerning any political party or any political activity,” RIA spokeswoman Alla Nadezhkina said.
“RIA Novosti strives for maximum balance and objectivity in its reporting on the State Duma election campaign,” she added, noting that media censorship was prohibited by the Russian Constitution and legislation.
The allegations come just days before parliamentary polls on December 4. Both Putin and United Russia’s approval ratings have been falling in recent weeks.
The company issued the statement after an employee of InoSMI, a RIA Novosti outlet that publishes translations into Russian of articles from foreign media, asserted in a blog post that he had been told to limit translations of stories critical of Putin and United Russia and to “soften” headlines on those articles that were translated and published.
The employee, Grigory Okhotin, supported his assertion by publishing screen shots of a chat exchange with a RIA manager responsible for internet projects in which the latter asked him to refrain from translating “negative” political stories in the week leading up to the Duma elections on Sunday.
“They told me rather clearly not to translate harsh stories about Putin or United Russia,” Okhotin wrote in his blog. “Or, they said, you can translate some but soften the headlines and don’t put them on the front page.”
Nadezhkina confirmed that all editorial departments had been told to pay particular attention to ensuring balanced and objective coverage ahead of the vote. But she said the charges made by Okhotin, who has resigned, contained “clear distortions.”