New East Digital Archive

News website editorial team resign in protest at censorship concerns

News website editorial team resign in protest at censorship concerns
A picture of the open letter of resignation written by the former journalists at Echo of Moscow in St Petersburg

31 March 2014
Text Nadia Beard

Five senior journalists have resigned from the St Petersburg edition of respected news website Echo of Moscow, citing censorship concerns and editorial pressure from owner Sergei Nedovodin, claims he has denied. The five join former editor-in-chief Vasily Puskaln who stepped down from his post last week to be replaced by Nedovodin.

In an interview with The Calvert Journal, Anastasia Mironowa, former deputy editor of the website, said that plans to resign en masse had been under discussion for the past month but were delayed by concerns about remuneration. She added that pressure to self-censor over the crisis in Ukraine was the last straw for those who resigned yesterday.

She said: “When the Ukrainian crisis happened, we were told that Ukraine is the enemy and that we are at war with Ukraine, that we don’t have the right to publish any Ukrainian statements or opinions. Nedovodin said that as Russian citizens and Russian journalists, we should support Russia in this conflict. That’s why we resigned. We just couldn’t take any more.”

In an open letter, signed by Mironowa, Puskaln and three of the four other journalists who resigned, the group stated their unwillingness to paint the Russian military forces in Ukraine as “heroic ‘self-defence forces’”.

The letter added: “After appointing himself as editor-in-chief and deciding that the website no longer needs a traditional model of an editorial team, he wanted to build the editorial policy, to choose what to write, to publish blogs, edit headers, and take the decisions to engage in paid exchanges of information with politicians and bodies of power.”

Russia’s media landscape has been subject to numerous changes in recent weeks, with many accusing the Russian government of tightening the screws on independent media. Following the new Kremlin-appointed editor at news website Lenta, the blocking of numerous opposition websites and blogs, and the dissolution of respected state-owned news agency RIA Novosti, many journalists fear the increasing interference by the government in Russia’s media.

Speaking to The Calvert Journal, Nedovodin denied all allegations of editorial pressure. He said: “I myself have never ever been pressurised by anyone above me and it’s the same for the journalists who worked here.” In response to claims that Nedovodin has pressed the editorial team to take a pro-Russian line on Ukraine, he said: “It’s absolutely not true. The journalists could write about anything they wanted. It really wasn’t fair to say that. You can see it on our website. About 99% of what we write about Russia is negative. If Russia behaves badly, we write that it behaves badly. I never told the journalists here that Ukraine is our enemy.”

Diana Kachalova, the editor-in-chief of newspaper Novaya Gazeta in St Petersburg, spoke to The Calvert Journal about an increased sensitivity among Russian journalists in recent months in response to shifts in the wider media landscape. She said: “If a month ago someone asked me to make an article I was writing slightly milder, I would be fine with that. If some asked me the same thing now, I would think ‘Oh God, someone is trying to censor me’.”

Kachalova added: “There is a kind of nervousness in the air, but the reasons for this are very real. Journalists are nervous because they are trapped between the situation in Ukraine and the ridiculous laws which are currently being produced like crazy by our Duma about how the Russian media must work. I am afraid that this is not the last kind resignation that we will see.”

Mironowa said the group of journalists who resigned planned to launch their own media project in coming weeks, funded by an internet traffic model that would ensure complete editorial independence.