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Ekho Moskvy’s future safe as board vote cancelled

Ekho Moskvy’s future safe as board vote cancelled
Alexei Venediktov

20 November 2014

The state-controlled owner of Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, Gazprom-Media, has cancelled a vote scheduled for tomorrow which threatened to remove the media organisation’s editor-in-chief, Alexei Venediktov, and change the direction of the station’s news coverage. The media giant also rescinded its order to have Ekho Moskvy‘s longstanding host Alexander Plyushchev fired, a decision which ignited conflict between Venediktov and Gazprom-Media and inspired the latter to call for a vote over the station’s future.

Head of Gazprom-Media, Mikhail Lesin, had called for the radio station’s board of directors to cast absentee votes this Friday after Venediktov refused to sign off on the board’s decision to fire Plyushchev following a controversial tweet. Veteran radio host Plyushchev was immediately dismissed by the board earlier this month after he used his personal Twitter account to question whether “the death of [Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov’s son] Ivanov, who ran over an old woman in his car and sued her son-in-law, is proof that God does exist”. Venediktov, known for his fierce protectiveness over Ekho Moskvy‘s independence, defied the decision to fire Plyushchev, accusing the board of violating the station’s charter which gives the editor-in-chief exclusive authority to dismiss editorial staff.

The decision to cancel tomorrow’s vote came following a four-hour meeting between Venediktov and Lesin on Wednesday. “The foundations of Ekho Moskvy’s editorial policy have not been affected. They have been preserved, and at the suggestion of Mikhail Lesin, they may even be strengthened,” Venediktov said. “The most important thing is that the editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy still directs the editorial policy.”

The announcement of the cancelled vote is a surprising move amid crisis in Russia’s independent media landscape, which has seen the Kremlin’s campaign to dominate the media with a pro-government voice executed with increasing speed.

Before news of the vote’s cancellation, and in a last ditch attempt to wrest Ekho Moskvy from the Kremklin-backed entertainment giant, Venediktov, who owns 33.3% of the station along with other Ekho Moskvy journalists, prepared a proposal to buy out Gazprom-Media’s controlling 66.6% stake in the radio station. Lesin expressed a willingness to consider his proposal “if the offer comes in at an adequate price”.