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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Fires Respected TV Chief

President Boris Yeltsin fired RTR Russian television's independent-minded chief Oleg Poptsov on Thursday, causing widespread concern about the editorial freedom of the channel as the country prepares for several months of electoral campaigning.

The decree dismissing Poptsov came hours after Yeltsin sharply criticized the channel while in Yekaterinburg where he was announcing his presidential candidacy. He said the station frequently reported things which were either unobjective or untrue.

"What can I do?" NTV independent television quoted him as saying. "Fire Poptsov?"

Having founded RTR five years ago, when the only alternative was the state-controlled Channel 1 (ORT), Poptsov has become a leading figure in the development of independent and objective Russian media. Nevertheless, the station's evenhandedness has frequently aggravated the government. the company lies. But the philosophy of lackeydom has exhausted itself."

Yeltsin appointed the head of TV6, Eduard Sagalayev, as Poptsov's successor, Itar-Tass reported.

Media analysts were unanimous in their praise of the former RTR chairman.

"Poptsov is indispensible for the continuation of democracy in television," said Yasen Zasursky, dean of the Moscow State University Faculty of Journalism. "He built a very creative, democratic station. This is a great achievement and Poptsov will remain in the history of Russian television."

And on "Vesti" a several politicians also criticized Yeltsin's decision.

"If you have a crooked face you shouldn't blame the mirror," said Democratic Russia deputy Galina Starovoitova.

The decision to sack Poptsov, coming on the very day Yeltsin declared his decision to run for a second term in office, created the immediate impression that the president intends to manipulate RTR -- which is state-owned -- during the election campaign.

Experts were skeptical as to how much the change would help, however.

"Any refusal to accept criticism will be damaging to the presidential campaign," Zasursky said. "The credibility of television is based on its objectivity." He added that in his opinion, one reason why Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia fared worse than expected in the December parliamentary polls, was that the pro-government ORT had painted too flattering a picture of the party.

While Yeltsin's decree was only made public late in the evening, RTR employees were anxious from the moment they heard his Yekaterinburg statements.

"There have been attempts of this nature more than once and the more often it happens the more we think that this time it's for real," said Konstantin Belov, deputy director of the "Vesti" news program, Thursday afternoon. "A bad word from the president can mean an awful lot."

Last October, there were also a flurry of rumors that Yeltsin was preparing a decree calling for Poptsov's removal, following RTR's refusal to toe the official line on events in Chechnya. The television station's staff threatened to strike and passed a resolution to remind Yeltsin that they had elected Poptsov as their chief.

The decree was not issued.

Belov said Yeltsin's dislike of Poptsov was largely due to his intolerance of independent television.

"One gets the feeling that they want 'Vesti' to look exactly like 'Vremya' he said, referring to the news program on ORT. "That's something we would never want. 'Vesti' is an antipode to 'Vremya' and that's how we've always wanted it."