Why Russia’s liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy goes off the air

Ekho Moskvy {Echo of Moscow}, one of Russia’s last liberal radio stations, refused to follow the Kremlin’s narrative on the invasion of Ukraine. Now it has shut down amid a crackdown on dissenting voices

'Just static': Why Russia’s liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy goes off the air

A closed on-air studio of Echo of Moscow radio in Moscow. The independent Russian radio Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow), a historic figure in the Russian media landscape, announced Thursday its self-dissolution, after its ban from antenna by the authorities because of its coverage of the invasion of Ukraine. AFP

If the Russian state media is to be believed, its forces have undertaken a military campaign in Ukraine to “liberate” its people. And it’s the Ukrainians who are guilty. Olga Skabeyeva, a popular television anchor and political commentator, on Russia 1 state television, said in a recent broadcast, “In Kyiv, the witch hunt is underway.”

Follow all LIVE updates of the Russia-Ukraine conflict HERE

On Channel One, a breaking news banner declared: Ukraine launched three missiles at the Donetsk People’s Republic.

The state news is in the Kremlin’s control, furthering President Vladimir Putin’s narrative on the conflict. In the Russian media, everyone speaks the same language – barring a few expectations and their voices are being muffled.

Ekho Moskvy {Echo of Moscow}, one of the country’s last remaining liberal radio channels, was taken off the air on Tuesday. After coming under pressure for its coverage of the invasion in Ukraine, its board of directors decided to shut it down. “The Ekho Moskvy board of directors has decided by a majority of votes to liquidate the radio channel and the website of Ekho Moskvy,” Editor-in-Chief Alexei Venediktov said on the messaging app Telegram.

He had told news agency Reuters earlier in the week, “Our editorial policies won’t change.”

The decision came after the prosecutor general’s office blocked Ekho Moskvy, saying that it had to make the move because the station and its website deliberately posted information “calling for extremist activities, violence and deliberately false information about the actions of Russian forces as part of a special operation” in Ukraine, reported news agency Reuters.

The radio station has denied the allegations calling them baseless and has decided to take the fight to court.

The coverage of the invasion

Since the start of the invasion on 24 February, Ekho Moskvy has been critical of Moscow. It has spoken openly about West sanctions on Russia and their impact on the economy, anti-war protests in the country, and how a majority of the countrymen disapprove of the assault.

On 3 March, Ekho Moskvy’s website published a blog by Russian journalist Onton Orek titled “You are deafened by the silence”. “…. our country, unfortunately, has not learned to produce anything of its own over the years, except militarism and hatred for everyone around, even for yourself,” he wrote.

The radio station was a platform for the few in Russia who are critical of their president. “Putin has started a big game, he has made Russia his bet in this game. In this deadly game, victory over Ukraine would be of at least some value,” it quoted journalist and former politician Alexander Nevzorov as saying.

Such scathing words against the Russian regime are almost unheard of in the country. However, this is not the first time Ekho Moskvy has hosted dissenters.

Seeking press freedom

The radio station was established in August 1990 by a few Soviet refugees to deliver the news, hold discussions, and provide a platform for people to say what they wanted. It was set up in a tiny single-room stood near Moscow’s Red Square. In one of its first programmes, the radio station interviewed Sergei Stankevich, a young leader of Moscow reformers, and even went on to play the Beatles song “All My Loving”, says an article on Ekho Moskvy, published in The New Yorker in 2008 titled “Echo in the Dark”.

That was just the beginning. A year on, in August 1991, it played a prominent part in resisting the coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union. It was taken off the air four times in three days but managed to resume operations. Through its broadcasts, the radio station gave listeners hope that the coup would fail and it did, reports The Washington Post. Years later, Ekho Moskvy’s ownership was brought under state-run gas company Gazprom, but the radio station remained independent, becoming a meeting ground for outspoken commentators.

Is this the end of the road for Ekho Moskvy?

The radio station went silent on Tuesday, 2 March. Its YouTube channel also stopped functioning for a while before it was restored.

In a tweet on Wednesday, 3 March, Ekho Moskvy wrote on Twitter, “Despite the decision of the Board of Directors of Echo of Moscow to liquidate the radio channel and the site, we continue to work on the following platforms: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, and Instagram.”

What about other independent media?

TV Rain, Russia’s last independent TV channel, has also stopped its operations temporarily. Its websites too were blocked because of its coverage of the conflict. “We need strength to … understand how we can work from here. We really hope that we will return to broadcasting and continue our work,” TV Rain’s general director, Natalya Sindeeva, said in a statement.

Its chief editor Tikhon Dzyadko and other employees have left the country fearing his safety, alleging that they received threats.

Launched in 2010, TV Rain rose to popularity because it covered the anti-Putin protests in 2011 and 2012. It was forced off cable but managed to sustain its online presence.

Novaya Gazeta, the independent Russian newspaper run by Nobel Prize-winning editor Dmitry Muratov, continues to operate. It has vowed not to turn into “propagandists” and be truthful to its 30 million readers.

The media has received an order saying that it is banned from using the words “war, “invasion”, and “occupation”. Muratov tells The New Yorker in an interview, “… we continue to call war war. We are waiting for the consequences.”

With inputs from agencies

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