Russian radio station axes CEO, critics cite Kremlin pressure
MOSCOW Feb 18 (Reuters) - Owners of a Russian radio station that often criticises the government replaced its CEO on Tuesday, drawing accusations from its chief editor that they were bending to pressure from the Kremlin.
Critics including former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov said the removal of Yuri Fedutinov from the helm of Ekho Moskvy was part of a campaign by the Kremlin to bring independent Russian media under its thumb.
Ekho Moskvy's owner, Gazprom-Media, announced Yekaterina Pavlova as the new CEO of the station, which has a strong Internet presence. Pavlova has held senior posts at state-run media outlets and is married to a Kremlin official.
Founded in 1990 shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ekho Moskvy ran extensive coverage of a protest movement against President Vladimir Putin in 2011-12 and has come under fire from authorities for its reporting over the years.
"I think this situation is ultimately linked to the pressure on Ekho Moskvy, on its editorial policy," Alexei Venediktov, the station's editor-in-chief since 1998, told Reuters. "I consider this replacement foul and unjust."
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov could not be reached for comment.
Venediktov said Ekho Moskvy editorial staff had not been warned about the change in its leadership and that Fedutinov, who had been its chief executive officer since 2002, had made the station profitable.
Ekho Moskvy came under further attack from pro-Kremlin bloggers last week after a post by Russian satirist Viktor Shenderovich, an Ekho columnist, drew comparisons between the current Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 1936 Berlin Games that Adolf Hitler used to paint a rosy picture of Nazi Germany.
Venediktov said the manager's replacement was tied to broadsides against Ekho Moskvy from state-run Rossiya TV where Dmitry Kiselyov, tapped to head a successor agency to Russia's main top news agency Ria Novosti, hosts a weekly show.
Putin has championed traditional values since returning to the Kremlin in 2012 following the protest movement that produced the biggest demonstrations against his rule. He has also fostered anti-Western and anti-liberal rhetoric.
Another independent-minded media outlet, TV station Dozhd, was taken off air last month by three television providers in a move the channel's chief called censorship.
Nemtsov, a prominent Kremlin critic, said the shuffle of Ekho Moskvy management showed the Kremlin was bent on silencing criticism. "After they virtually destroyed Dozhd, they only have one bastion of freedom of speech left, which they also want to put under control and censorship," he told Reuters.
Pavlova, 35, once occupied top posts at state news holding VGTRK and Golos Rossii radio. She is married to a presidential administration official, a Kremlin source said.
Venediktov said he was alarmed by the prospect of broader political pressure on Ekho Moskvy's editorial policies and its internal operations. "We are seeing an attack on the public and non-public editorial policies," he said. (Editing by Mark Heinrich)