Press-Republican

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December 16, 2013

Can Putin re-create Fox News in Russia?

— Among the many things Fox News has to answer for is the proof it has provided that news relentlessly slanted to match an agenda works: It can bring audience, financial success and influence, the three things any media owner craves.

This is called propaganda when used by state-run organizations, and for a long time it fell out of fashion. Most serious news media, state-owned or private, figured that the attempt at objectivity and independence would more reliably create those rewards. (Before anyone snorts, yes, editorial objectivity is unattainable, but the effort to achieve it makes a big difference.)

This was the policy Svetlana Mironyuk followed when she was appointed to take over and modernize Russia's lesser-known state news agency, RIA Novosti, in 2003. For someone who in essence was an employee of the Russian state, she was remarkably thoughtful, professional and independent. In 2011, for example, RIA Novosti reported on anti-government protests in Moscow and gave crowd numbers. RIA's website purveys news. Mironyuk turned a Soviet propaganda tool into what was widely regarded as the most professional news agency in Russia.

Now it seems President Vladimir Putin has caught the Fox bug and is shutting RIA Novosti down. He's no longer interested in providing a strong, independent news agency on which Russians and foreigners working in Russia can rely for information.

RIA Novosti costs about $89 million a year in state subsidies to run, according to the Wall Street Journal. That's chump change to a government willing to spend $50 billion on the three-week Winter Olympics. But RIA's closure isn't about money. Mironyuk has been fired, to be replaced by Dmitry Kiselyov, a sensationalist propagandist from the state TV station Rossiya-1 who would fit in nicely at Fox. RIA will be changed into a new entity called RT, after the English-language propaganda channel Russia Today, and will, according to Kiselyov, aim at "restoring a fair attitude toward Russia as an important country in the world with good intentions."

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