Russia Lenta.ru editor Timchenko fired in Ukraine row

Lenta announced the sacking of its editor on its website on Wednesday Lenta announced the sacking of its editor on its website on Wednesday

The chief editor of popular Russian news website Lenta.ru has lost her job over an interview it published with a far-right Ukrainian nationalist.

Galina Timchenko was fired after the state media regulator issued the website with a warning for publishing material of an "extremist nature".

She will be replaced by Alexei Goreslavsky, who until recently headed a staunchly pro-Kremlin website.

Her departure comes after several recent attacks on independent media.

Analysis

The abrupt removal of Ms Timchenko is being seen as yet another blow to the country's embattled independent media.

One of the most respected figures on the Russian media scene, she has been at Lenta.ru from the start and became editor-in-chief in 2004.

"Under her guidance, Lenta.ru became the best web publication in Russian," liberal journalist Aleksandr Plyushchev wrote.

Her successor, Alexei Goreslavsky, until recently headed the staunchly pro-Kremlin website, Vzglyad.ru. According to opposition activist and blogger Leonid Volkov, he was also a media adviser on the campaign that helped elect Sergei Sobyanin, an ally of President Putin, as Moscow mayor last September.

Her departure is being seen as another blow to freedom of speech in Russia.

A statement by the editorial staff reflected on the "dramatic decline" in the scope for free journalism in Russia: "The problem is not that there is nowhere left for us to work. The problem is that there is nothing left, it seems, for you to read."

The decision to dismiss Ms Timchenko was made by Lenta.ru's owner Alexander Mamut. It was immediately criticised by the website's editorial staff who complained of direct pressure being placed on them and a "dramatic decline" in the scope for free journalism in Russia.

"The dismissal of an independent chief editor and the appointment of a person who can be controlled from outside, including directly from offices in the Kremlin - that is already a violation of the media law," read the statement signed by 69 Lenta staff on the website's front page.

Writing on her Facebook page, Ms Timchenko said simply: "That's it. Thank you, it was interesting."

Media regulator Roskomnadzor cited an interview published two days earlier with a leading member of the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist group, Right Sector, referring to a hyperlink in the text that led to its leader, Dmitriy Yarosh.

It said the material contained statements inciting ethnic hatred. A Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for Mr Yarosh on Wednesday on charges of inciting terrorism.

Journalists at TV channel Dozhd (Rain) fear closure after it was dropped by cable operators Journalists at TV channel Dozhd (Rain) fear closure after it was dropped by cable operators

Founded in 1999, Lenta is considered one of Europe's most visited news websites and last year became part of Mr Mamut's Afisha-Rambbler-SUP media group.

It is the latest media outlet in Russia to come under the scrutiny of the authorities:

  • State news agency Ria Novosti was closed last year and relaunched under a new editor
  • Independent TV channel Dozhd (Rain) was dropped by leading cable and satellite operators
  • Radio station Ekho Moskvy's director-general, Yuriy Fedutinov, was replaced

Ekho's veteran editor-in-chief Aleksey Venediktov, whose future is also being considered, condemned Ms Timchenko's removal as a "clearly political decision".

Mr Mamut, a 54-year-old billionaire who also owns UK bookshop chain Waterstone's, has an estimated fortune of $2.3bn, according to Forbes.

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