A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL
A popular clip circulating on the Internet shows just how much a journalist can change in Vladimir Putin's Russia.
In 1999, as Putin was coming to power, Dmitry Kiselyov was a promising television broadcaster with strong opinions about the difference between journalism and propaganda.
"A journalist cannot be separated from his or her ethics," he says in the video. "But people who appear on TV -- you can't often call them journalists. Because very often they're simply agitators."
Fourteen years later, Putin is firmly entrenched in the Kremlin. And Kiselyov, the president's new media kingpin, sounds a lot less like a journalist, and a lot more like an agitator, than he used to.
"[Gays] should be prohibited from donated blood, sperm," he says in the video clip. "And their hearts, in case they die in a car accident, should be buried or burned as unfit for extending anyone's life."
Kiselyov, 59, was tapped on December 9 to head Rossia Segodnya (Russia Today), a massive new media enterprise that will replace the country's biggest news agency, RIA Novosti. Putin disbanded the news agency and its $110 million budget in a presidential decree published on December 9, officially defending the move as a cost-cutting measure.
'Panic' In The Kremlin
And if Russia media-watchers were surprised by the closure of RIA Novosti, they were dismayed by the appointment of Kiselyov, a deputy director of Russian state TV holding company VGTRK and pro-Putin loyalist who uses his weekly news program, "Vesti nedeli" (News of the Week), as a soapbox to promote some of the Kremlin's most controversial policies and denigrate the West.
The announcement of Kiselyov's promotion came one day after the broadcaster gave a particularly partisan analysis of the "Euromaidan" antigovernment demonstrations in Ukraine, a situation the Russian government has watched with anxiety.
Kiselyov -- whose newscasts are tinged with biting sarcasm and sharp language -- mocked the protests as much ado about nothing. "And what is 'Maidan'? A very small dot on the body of Ukraine. If you burn it with a soldering iron, it will hurt," he said.
"But if you apply the correct political technology -- bring it to the point of overheating, then show it through the magnifying glass of TV and the Internet to create the impression that the whole country is now supposedly like this, it may prove to be fatal," he continued. "In fact, Ukraine is more complicated than 'Maidan.'"
The decision to install Kiselyov in the vacuum left by RIA Novosti -- which under Editor in Chief Svetlana Mironyuk had become the most reputable of Russia's state agencies -- is a dramatic one. It comes at a time when the Kremlin is not only struggling to manage the message in upstart Ukraine, but maximize its impact during the Sochi Olympic Games in February.
Speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service, Igor Yakovenko, the former head of the Russian Union of Journalists, said the sudden move spoke of "if not panic, then a certain alarm" among the Kremlin elite.
"It's an extremely ineffective decision. I would even say a stupid one," Yakovenko said. "Because in fact the style of propaganda that's characteristic for Dmitry Kiselyov is simply open lies. Everything that he says about 'Maidan,' everything that he used to say about the Russian opposition, is a complete lie and sometimes sleight of hand. And that's possible only when you have censorship -- conditions in which there's a monopoly on information."
The Kremlin says the new agency is meant to address what it perceives as a comprehension gap in the world's perception of Russian policy. Putin's decree says Russia Today -- which is not to be confused with the Kremlin-funded English-language station, now called RT -- aims to "report about Russia's state policy and public life abroad."
RIA Novosti, by contrast, cited its values as "promptness, objectivity, authenticity, and its own opinion regardless of the political situation." A second entity, the Voice of Russia radio network, has also been disbanded and will be incorporated into Kiselyov's agency.
No doubt conscious of hostility from within his own state-media ranks, Kiselyov said on December 10 that he hoped to keep on most RIA Novosti staff, citing their "positive results."
Yakovenko, however, says any new agency will be dramatically transformed under Kiselyov's "Goebbels-type" information -- a reference to Joseph Goebbels, the notorious Nazi propagandist.
"There's a distance between the loyalty of Svetlana Mironyuk, who nevertheless was a professional journalist, and that of Dmitry Kiselyov, who just received an incredible Oscar for his pathological intensity in his coverage of 'Maidan,' and who on the next day was granted the seat as director of a fairly large media holding," Yakovenko says. "These things are connected."