Russian state-run media group RIA Novosti on Tuesday categorically rejected a claim that one of its outlets designed to give Russians easier access to foreign media sought to curb reports critical of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the ruling United Russia party ahead of key elections.
“RIA Novosti adheres strictly at all times to the principle of free speech which is codified in the company’s internal editorial regulations,” Chief Editor Svetlana Mironyuk said in a statement, adding that all RIA Novosti publications also strive to ensure full compliance with Russian legislation.
The statement was released after former non-staff translator for InoSMI, a foreign press translation service run by RIA Novosti, claimed in a personal blog post Monday that he had been asked by a senior employee to limit or “soften” material critical of Putin and United Russia ahead of elections to the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on Sunday. He described this request as “censorship”.
The accusation by Grigory Okhotin came amid signs that the high popularity ratings enjoyed by Putin and United Russia in the past decade were waning. Okhotin’s charge was circulated widely in the Russian blogosphere and was picked up by Russian and foreign media outlets.
Mironyuk and Mikhail Safronov, RIA Novosti’s deputy general director and head of the company’s legal department, asserted that Okhotin’s accusation was simultaneously false, intentionally provocative and directly prejudicial to RIA Novosti’s professional reputation.
“Censorship of mass media – that is, government officials making editorial demands or collusion of state bodies on publication or withholding of reporting – is prohibited by Russian legislation,” Safronov said.
Mironyuk said the company was studying its options for taking legal action, stating: “RIA Novosti is prepared to defend its reputation in court and compel Grigory Okhotin to retract the dishonest accusation he has spread.”
The statement noted that Russian law explicitly prohibits mass media from publishing news that could be construed as political propaganda.
Russian media faced relatively tight restrictions on political reporting during the run-up to the elections.
However, as a translator who worked from home producing Russian-language versions of articles about Russia published in foreign media, Okhotin “was never given, and could not have been given, any direct instructions from the management” to avoid material critical of the country’s leadership, the statement said.
“Any basic analysis of the contents of the InoSMI website testifies to the fact that it is a platform for publication of various views including those critical of the Russian authorities. This utterly discredits the censorship thesis,” it added.
The statement expressed RIA Novosti’s dismay that of the many media outlets that chose to publicize Okhotin’s accusation only a few contacted RIA Novosti and offered the company the opportunity to respond to it directly.
“RIA Novosti respects the various forms for the expression of opinions of all the journalists it employs and is prepared to offer space for the communication of all points of view,” it added.