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Russian radio station under fire over Ukraine coverage

AFP , Thursday 6 Nov 2014
Anti-government protesters use fireworks during clashes with Interior Ministry members and riot police in central Kiev February 18, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

A top Russian radio station editor on Thursday clashed with its state owner over the dismissal of its top presenter due to Ukraine coverage, the latest independent outlet to come under fire over the crisis.

The Echo of Moscow -- a station with a fiercely independent outlook but which is partly owned by state-controlled Gazprom Media holding -- is one of the last media outlets in the country expressing views critical of the Kremlin.

On Thursday its director unexpectedly fired Echo's top presenter Alexander Plyushchev after he hosted a sensitive program about the Ukraine conflict last week.

"The decision to break the contract with Echo of Moscow presenter Alexander Plyushchev has been taken due to the journalist's violation of admissible moral-ethical norms," a statement by Gazprom Media distributed by Russian news agencies said.

The journalist "ignored norms of professional journalism ethics" which require him to respect the "rights, interests, and dignity of citizens," the statement said, without elaborating.

Plyushchev told the radio that he was fired after being summoned by the station's director regarding a program on October 29 about Ukrainian soldiers fighting with pro-Russian separatists in the airport near Ukraine's eastern city of Donetsk.

The program was later removed from the radio station's website after Russia's media watchdog issued an official warning to the station, accusing it of airing a program "containing information that justifies war crimes".

Echo of Moscow's editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov, known for maintaining an independent editorial position despite state ownership, refused to dismiss Plyushchev, launching an open conflict with his management.

"Alexander Plyushchev will continue working," the station quoted Venediktov as saying.

Gazprom Media owns 66 percent of the station. Its CEO Mikhail Lesin told RBK Daily news agency that he was willing do fire Venediktov -- a hugely respected titan of Russian journalism who has run the station for 14 years.

Russia's independent media has been under enormous pressure with several outlets reversing editorial policies or being persecuted over the past two years for expressing views critical of the Kremlin.

The conflict in Ukraine has already led to the de-facto shutdown of respected news website Lenta.Ru whose editor was fired in March, leading to its entire staff quitting in protest and recently launching a new project which operates out of Latvia.

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