Exclusive: Russian news agency in Berlin faces staff exodus over Ukraine invasion

3 minute read

Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Russian broadcaster RT and the Rossiya Segodnya media group, attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 3, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

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BERLIN, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Ruptly, a Russian state-owned news agency based in Berlin, is facing a staff exodus after President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine that is part of a broader contraction of Russia's global news empire.

Employees complained on an all-staff call that they were being prevented from describing the invasion as such, amongst other editorial objections, according to a recording of the call heard by Reuters. Russia says its military deployment in Ukraine is a "special operation" and has cautioned local media to use that terminology. read more

Chief Content Officer Ekaterina Mavrenkova urged staff not to get hung up on precise wordings.

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"All the words we've been using, they do not distort the reality in any way," she said in the recording heard by Reuters. "With all these linguistic subtleties, there are ways to objectively present the picture without falling with whatever side."

An e-mailed request for comment to the press contacts listed on the website prompted an automatic reply.

"As of February 25th 2022, I no longer work as Chief Marketing Officer at Ruptly," Sean Lynn's automatic reply said.

Established in 2013 to provide news to Russia's state-owned international broadcaster RT and other customers, Ruptly provides video and live feeds from around the world.

The agency, which competes with services offered by Reuters, is part of the news empire of Putin ally Margarita Simonyan, that has been credited with worsening social tensions in Western countries by focussing on scenes of discord there.

She and her networks say they provide a much-needed diversity to contrast with what she describes as Western media homogeneity.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Sunday that RT and Sputnik, two Russian state news organizations that are also run by Simonyan, would be banned from the European Union, while Simonyan was sanctioned as "a central figure" of Russia's propaganda machine.

Germany-registered Ruptly's status remained unclear.

Meanwhile, Meta Platforms, parent company of Facebook, will restrict access to RT and Sputnik on its platforms across the European Union, the company said. read more

BLOW TO EXPANSION

At least three senior editors at the agency had quit by Monday, a Ruptly staff member who asked to remain anonymous said. One, head of planning Katerina Alexandridi, confirmed her departure to Reuters. Others could not immediately be reached.

"Some of our colleagues are leaving," said Chief Executive Dinara Toktosunova, according to the recording of the all-staff call. "For the time being we will keep Ruptly functioning as much as possible" but for example, night shifts would temporarily not be staffed, she said.

A page profiling 26 senior staff had been removed from the website on Monday, though the page was preserved on an archive site.

Toktosunova said the company had money to pay staff to the end of the year and offered to relocate them to Russia if it ever became impossible for the business to function in Germany.

"Everyone is off sick or has resigned," the Ruptly staff member said. "You can't be part of a such a thing then go to a refugee camp and pretend you (care)."

LinkedIn listed 125 people in Germany whose current employer is Ruptly on Monday.

The departures are the latest blow to Russia's international broadcasting network, which as recently as this year was aiming to launch a new German-language edition of RT for which it said it was aiming to hire some 200 staff.

While the job adverts remain on RT's website, the station was never allowed to launch in Germany: authorities said that it did not have the required broadcasting licence, and said the Serbian broadcasting licence it did have did not suffice.

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Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Sarah Marsh and Grant McCool

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