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Putin dissolves state news agency, tightens grip on Russia media

(Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin tightened his control over Russia's media on Monday by dissolving the main state news agency and replacing it with an organization that is to promote Moscow's image abroad.

The move to abolish RIA Novosti and create a news agency to be known as Rossiya Segodnya is the second in two weeks strengthening Putin's hold on the media as he tries to reassert his authority after protests against his rule.

Most Russian media outlets are already loyal to Putin, and opponents get little air time, but the shake-up underlined their importance to Putin keeping power and the Kremlin's concern about the president's ratings and image.

The head of the new agency, to be built from the ashes of RIA Novosti, is a conservative news anchor, Dmitry Kiselyov, who once caused outrage by saying the organs of homosexuals should not be used in transplants.

"The main focus of ... Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today) is to highlight abroad the state policy and public life of the Russian Federation," said a decree signed by Putin.

Sergei Ivanov, the head of the presidential administration, told reporters that the changes were intended to save money and improve the state media.

But the new organization has strong similarities to APN, a Soviet-era news agency whose role included writing articles about "the social-economic and cultural life of the Soviet people and items reflecting Soviet society's point of view on important internal and international events".

RIA said in an English-language article about Putin's step: "The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia's news landscape which appear to point towards a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector."

Rossiya Segodnya's focus on building up Russia abroad could solidify Putin's grip on information by further limiting sources of news for Russians whose TV screens are dominated by state-controlled channels.

Russia Arctic

Putin's decree appeared to have little effect on the two other major Russian news agencies, state-run Itar-Tass and private Interfax, but it could benefit both by making RIA's replacement less of a competitor domestically.

Itar-Tass is the successor of the Soviet official Tass agency, while Interfax has more leeway as a private agency but is restricted by the Kremlin's dominance.


A prominent member of parliament, Alexei Mitrofanov, described Kiselyov as a "powerful propagandist" but said this was a good thing and that he was suitable for the job.

In his third term, after weathering protests led by urban liberals, the 61-year-old Putin has often appealed to conservatives and championed the Russian Orthodox Church as a moral guide for society.

Kiselyov has proved a loyal Putin supporter as a television presenter, at times making provocative remarks. In 2010 he said homosexuals should be banned from donating blood or sperm and last year said they should also be banned from donating organs.

Putin has been Russia's dominant leader since he was first elected president in 2000. He began his third term in the Kremlin in May 2012 after stepping aside to serve for four years as prime minister because of constitutional limits.

The opposition staged big street protests against him for several months from December 2011, following a parliamentary election they said was rigged. The demonstrations have faded but Putin's popularity ratings have declined from their peak during his first two terms - from 2000 until 2008.

The Kremlin extended its grip over radio and television broadcasting on November 26 when the media arm of state-controlled Gazprom bought mining tycoon Vladimir Potanin's Profmedia.

Through the deal, the ex-Soviet gas ministry - now Russia's largest firm by revenue - will add TV and radio stations, cinemas and film production and distribution assets to a sprawling portfolio built up around commercial channel NTV.

The Kremlin already funds an English-language TV channel called RT which was initially known as Russia Today. It is not clear whether the two will operate separately and RT's head, Margarita Simonyan, said she had been unaware of the move.

The new organization will be created in RIA Novosti's headquarters in central Moscow. The fate of its journalists and other employees was not immediately clear.

RIA Novosti was created as the Soviet Information Bureau in 1941, after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and issues reports in Russian and foreign languages.

(This story has been refiled to delete extraneous word in 4th paragraph)

(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Alexei Kalmykov; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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bcole44482 December 10 2013 at 9:35 AM

demacrats are stupid

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LA is Best December 10 2013 at 8:46 AM

Putin dissolves state news agency, tightens grip on Russia media..............I know this guy that lives in the White House that does the same thing, maybe him amd pootin are talking!

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Rebel December 10 2013 at 8:04 AM

Sounds like what the republicans do in the USA...

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2 replies to Rebel's comment
Arthur December 10 2013 at 8:16 AM

You got that backwards you do!

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pb4yguy December 10 2013 at 11:26 AM

Rebel, surely you really mean the All Controlling LibDems as we've obviously seen for years now, especially since our "Dear Leader" has been in power?

Dear "Leaders" like to control everything and everybody, or they throw a hissy fit!

LibDems are the ones who want everyone to think the same and ignore individual freedoms and liberties.

And, of course, they rely on their standards of "Double Standards" to get what they want, but not allow the same freedoms to anyone opposing them!

Just look at all of President Obama's constant lying for years!

Are he and Putin brothers?

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stengernc December 10 2013 at 7:47 AM

To control a country you first have control the news. In a dictatorship you just shut down opposition communication outlets, prevent internet connections and fill the people with propaganda.

In a democracy you have to use deceit and deception, like calling your communication network....fair and balanced news when in reality you are a shrill for the super rich stirring up propaganda to influence elections. Democracy, like dictatorial communism fails when the elite own 90% of a country's assets. In the USA we now have the top 5% owning 73% of this countries assets....the tipping point is very near.

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rtweeddale December 10 2013 at 7:20 AM

I meant the, "Feebly patriotic country of" Ukraine

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rtweeddale December 10 2013 at 7:19 AM

Putin simply thinks Russia's vast natural gas reserves, (as well as deposits in other countries he'd like to get his blood soaked hands on) will provide him the leverage to coerce his country's citizens and those feebly patriotic leaders of other countries, (Kiev as an example) to implement his egotistical policies. Now... dissolve a news agency? He is taking a cue from North Korea and old Nazi Germany!
I'm not sure what Former President George W. Bush meant when he said, “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.” -- I'm used to Sean Hannity to always explain what Bush said or meant to say.
I just hope President Obama keeps his distance and never trusts Putin with anything.
The Rat clipped Robert Craft's Superbowl ring in '05 for C-sakes!

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susan December 10 2013 at 7:19 AM

Interesting that our own country has been under bama control, putting the heat on tv stations that mention any anti comments. Even the papers have let things stay hidden rather than go for the truth. Hasnt Russia learned anything, turning back the years to the time of the Tsars.

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Deborah December 10 2013 at 7:04 AM

So what's different from USaq to Russia? Obama and the left have been in total control of the media since he got into office. Putin just does it better

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jediop1 December 10 2013 at 7:00 AM

The American main stream media sadly has been the propaganda arm of the Democrat party since Watergate. They have long since ceased performing the objective function laid out in the Constitution and have become little more than a nightly liberal musical/variety act with ratings falling lower each year. The same old song and dance doesn't work anymore with Obamacare hitting the twitter crowd in the pocketbooks as hard as the rest of us. Obama's steady stream of scandals highlight the total incompetence of these Democrat buffoons. The only question is can enough of us awaken up from the apathetic trance we've been under in time to save our nation. I'm betting YES WE CAN.

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Ray December 10 2013 at 7:30 AM

Well said. If you recall, Harry Reid and the rest of his ilk also tried to shut down Fox News, with their Fairness in Journalism proposed legislation. Then we could all have to listen to Chris Mathews all day.

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Dianne December 10 2013 at 8:08 AM

You're absolutely correct! Obama tried to control freedom of the press and free political thought from the beginning by targeting Fox News. If you remember he also tried to control FCC requirements to suit his personal agenda. He showed his dictorial/socialist side from day One.

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John Lennon December 11 2013 at 3:04 AM

Fox News Is A Network of lies!!! WAKE UP!!!

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Sue December 10 2013 at 6:31 AM

Obama would do the same to FOX News if he could. He & Putin cannot stand media which tells the truth about what they are doing. I think that they are both looking for a excuse to declare martial law.

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mcgrawnrh December 10 2013 at 6:54 AM

The only ptoblem with your comment is that Faux Gnus would not know the truth when it slapped them in the face. LOL LOL LOL

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Rebel December 10 2013 at 8:06 AM

FAUX NEWS is made up bullshit! The FCC declared it to be SATIRE, not news.

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