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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

70 RTR Staff Protest Looming Cutbacks

Journalists and technical staff from state-run RTR televisions news program "Vesti" are fighting against impending layoffs at the stations parent company, the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company, or VGTRK.

About 70 employees protested the decision by VGTRKs head Oleg Dobrodeyev to liquidate the company Vesti, a VGTRK subsidiary in charge of producing the eponymous news program. They sent Dobrodeyev a letter challenging the decision earlier this week.

Dobrodeyev issued the order to disband Vesti on Oct. 4, sending its 700-member staff on three months forced, paid leave.

About 450 employees were immediately rehired by other VGTRK subsidiaries, mostly by the Rossiya television company, which took over news production. The rest did not receive any guarantees of re-employment.

Dobrodeyevs associate, Rossiyas first deputy general director Alexander Abramenko, explained the downsizing as an effort to make Vesti more efficient.

"Vesti had about 700 employees, but only 300 to 400 people were involved in news production," he was quoted as saying by Interfax.

But the head of Vestis union, Igor Vasilyev, denounced the reshuffle Friday as a "political move" aimed at "filtering out" some of the journalists disliked by Dobrodeyev and making space for new ones.

Dina Pugachyova, a Vesti political reporter and one of the protesting employees, agreed.

She told Ekho Moskvy radio Friday that Dobrodeyevs arrival at VGTRK brought about a revolution connected to the Kremlins attempts to centralize its power and provide pro-government information. "Were no longer just talking about the channels loyalty [to the government], but about absolute devotion."

Dobrodyev, a co-founder of Vladimir Gusinskys NTV television, was appointed to run VGTRK in January. He gave RTRs news programs a striking face-lift by bringing in a group of skilled NTV journalists and technical personnel. The latest defection from NTV came this week, when deputy general director Alexei Malinin left to join Dobordeyev at VGTRK as his "deputy on development issues," the Kommersant daily reported Friday.

Vasilyevs union has dismissed the liquidation as "unlawful," saying VGTRK failed to notify the union three months in advance, as required by the Labor Code.

The head of the liquidation commission, Olga Rybina, maintains that everything was done in conformance with the law. She denied the very existence of Vasilyevs union on the basis that it is not registered with the Justice Ministry.

"Our only obligation was to give the workers three months notification, which we did," she said.

The union says it registered last year by sending a letter to Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi, the companys then-head. According to Vasilyev, the unions legitimacy may be the main legal issue in the battle with VGTRK.

The union has announced it will stage street protests next week if VGTRKs management fails to start negotiating the re-employment of Vestis entire staff.