Russia: BBC broadcasts taken off air

Distributor calls programs "foreign propaganda;" critics cite Putin gov't.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The British Broadcasting Corp. said Friday its Russian-language FM broadcasts have been taken off the air by its Moscow distributor, which said its programs were "foreign propaganda." The decision by Bolshoye Radio - and similar moves by two other radio station in the past year - leaves the BBC's Russian-language services available only on medium and shortwave broadcasts, the BBC said in a press release. Bolshoye Radio's parent company, financial group Finam, said their license did not allow them to retransmit BBC's programs and the station will instead focus on originally produced material. Company spokesman Igor Ermachenkov said management made the decision on its own without outside interference. "It's no secret that the BBC was established as a broadcaster of foreign propaganda," Ermachenkov told The Associated Press. The BBC said that the licensing documents it received in May 2006 allowed almost one-fifth of Bolshoye Radio's content to be produced externally. Richard Sambrook, director of BBC Global News, called on the station to respect the original agreement. "We cannot understand how the license is now interpreted in a way that does not reflect the original and thorough concept documents," he said. Critics say President Vladimir Putin's government has stifled media freedoms and quashed political opposition as part of a broader effort to increase Kremlin control over Russian political life. As the country heads into a parliamentary election in December and presidential elections in March, observers say government influence over news media appears to be at its strongest since the Soviet era ended. Several foreign language broadcasters have seen their programming curtailed or pulled off the air in Russia in recent years. Russian authorities last year dramatically curtailed the number of stations broadcasting Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America news programs. German broadcaster Deutsche Welle has also had problems with its German and Russian-language medium-wave radio programs in the past. Alexander Varkentin, deputy head of the Russian service of Deutsche Welle, told AP that the only problems the German broadcaster has had in Russia of late were financial - small radio stations requesting money for programs. Bolshoye Radio's decision also comes as relations between London and Moscow have plummeted to their lowest level in years. British prosecutors have demanded that Russia hand over a businessman they have accused in the death of Alexander Litivinenko, the former KGB agent and British citizen who died of radioactive poisoning in London last year. Russia has refused, saying it is constitutionally barred from extraditing Russian citizens, and has waged a highly public relations campaign accusing Britain of trying to recruit spies in Russia. "We support the role of the BBC World Service, it is a source of independent news, often in parts of the world where such independence is far from the norm," a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said on customary condition of anonymity. "It is important that the BBC World Service is able to continue to broadcast in Russia."