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Russia is launching a 24-hour global satellite news channel in English to try to boost the country's image, battered recently by the Yukos affair and president Vladimir Putin's centralising tendencies.
The channel, Russia Today, is a project of Mikhail Lesin, a former communications minister who is now a press adviser to Mr Putin, and Alexei Gromov, the president's press secretary. It also involves RIA Novosti, the state-controlled news and information agency responsible for pro-Soviet propaganda in the Communist era.
Those involved were meeting on Monday to put final touches to the plans before an official media launch on TuesdayRIA Novosti and the presidential press service declined to comment.
But one person familiar with the project said the channel was aimed at combating what Moscow sees as the erroneous “Anglo-American” view of Russia, and put the country's own viewpoint across. It would also seek to represent the opinions of ordinary Russians.
The project aimed at least in part to counter the damage to Russia's image from the attack on Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oil magnate sentenced last week to nine years in a penal colony.
Funding was already in place for two to three years. But it was unclear on Monday what the channel's initial financing would be, with estimates ranging from $10m to $30m, and the extent of Kremlin involvement in the funding.
Plans for the channel were first revealed by a press release put out, apparently in error, by RIA Novosti last week and hastily withdrawn. Adverts also appeared in some western media seeking journalists for an “English-language, 24-hour broadcast news channel based in Moscow”.
The release said the channel, expected to launch this autumn, would broadcast in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Europe, the US, and some Asian countries.
It would “reflect Russia's position on key issues in world affairs, and inform the foreign audience about the variety of aspects of life in Russia”. To ensure balance, it would have a supervisory committee composed of “famous Russian and foreign public figures, journalists, artists, scientists and businessmen”.
Margarita Simonian, a 26-year old former Kremlin reporter for Russia's Channel 2, has been appointed editor in chief.