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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

5 Ekho Moskvy Editors Quit Over Gazprom

Five deputy editors at Ekho Moskvy radio resigned Thursday in protest of what they called the nationalization of the only privately owned national news radio station.

The resignations came just a day after Gazprom promised to sell a 9.5 percent stake in the station to its journalists — shares that the employees had asked for so as to gain control of the station and thus maintain its editorial independence.

But the deputy editors said they did not trust Gazprom and feared the state-connected gas monopoly has no intention of giving up control over the station.

Gazprom called the resignations an internal matter.

Gazprom became the main shareholder of Ekho Moskvy on Wednesday evening when a Moscow court confirmed its earlier ruling that Gazprom's media arm, Gazprom-Media, could acquire stakes of 25 percent plus one share in all companies that were once part of Vladimir Gusinsky's Media-MOST. Ekho Moskvy is part of that media empire. Gazprom already owned 25 percent of the station.

Fourteen percent of Ekho Moskvy was handed to the station's journalists by Gusinsky in May, but prosecutors have frozen the shares on Gazprom's request as a part of bankruptcy procedures against Media-MOST. Journalists had hoped that the 14 percent and the 9.5 percent from Gazprom together with a 28 percent stake they already own would allow them to gain control of the station.

But now, the editors who resigned said, there is little chance that this will happen. "I don't trust Gazprom, and I believe their aim is to close the station as it is now," Vladimir Varfolomeyev, head of the station's information service and a deputy editor who resigned, said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Varfolomeyev said the promise Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh gave Wednesday "was nothing more than a handwritten piece of paper with no legal weight."

"And I don't see myself as the head of the information service of a state radio since, mildly speaking, I disagree with many of the policies of this state," he added.

Other deputy editors who resigned Thursday are first deputy editor Sergei Buntman, marketing director Marina Tsvei, deputy editor Marina Korolyova and deputy editor for regional broadcasting Tatyana Shcheglova.

Gazprom spokesman Andrei Fedorin said Kokh's promise "stays for the moment."

"It's entirely up to the journalists to believe it or not," he added. "It's their internal matter."

Ekho Moskvy general director Yury Fedulov and chief editor Alexei Venediktov said Thursday that they would quit only if Gazprom breaks its promise and takes the station under full state control.

"If the radio station ever becomes state-controlled I will, undoubtedly resign," Venediktov told Interfax.

"But for the moment I have but one aim — to wrestle the radio from the state," he added.

Venediktov said he was surprised by the resignations but "understood them only too well."

Ekho Moskvy is the last of the many Media-MOST outlets — which included NTV television and the Itogi news magazine — that is still operating with the same editorial team and editorial policy that it had before creditor Gazprom swooped down on the media empire in what it said was a collection on unpaid debts.

Media-MOST says the takeover of its outlets comes from the Kremlin in response to its critical reporting.

Ekho Moskvy is a highly respected source of fast and accurate information and has interviewed high-profile guests such as then-President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der. This week French President Jacques Chirac stopped by the station.

The controversy swirling around Ekho Moskvy is raising fears that the Kremlin may be going after the last, independent national media. "The government has made it its aim to silence all media that still have the courage to criticize it, and they are doing it systematically," said Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. "There is no place for a radio like Ekho Moskvy here anymore."