RIA Novosti’s headquarters in downtown Moscow (Photo credit: RIA Novosti)
Two years ago, Russian news agency RIA Novosti (Russian Information Agency News) was awarded national host agency and photo pool rights for the Olympics in Sochi. On Monday, with less than two months before the opening ceremony, President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree to dissolve the state-owned news agency.
According to the head of the presidential administration, Sergey Ivanov, multiple reasons led to the decision, including a planned decrease in funding for state-owned media and the need for increased efficiency in reporting.
Instead, a new agency, named Russia Today, shall be created. It’s unknown if the new agency will be related to the English-language TV channel of the same name. Their avowed goals are similar: provide news from Russia to a foreign audience.
Questions over Olympic coverage were raised after the announcement. A national host agency is normally the main source of news for the host country’s audience. That agency has coverage rights comparable to those held by the International Olympic Committee’s international partners, such as Associated Press, Reuters, and France Press. In 2010, the Canadian Press were the host agency for the Vancouver Olympics. In 2012 these duties were delegated to the Press Association.
It’s not the first controversial situation RIA Novosti found itself in regarding Olympic coverage. Four months ago it was made public that the largest sports site of Russian web, Sports.ru, was denied accreditation to the Olympics. Their respective editors-in-chief, Dmitry Navosha of Sports.ru and Svetlana Mironyuk of RIA Novosti, exchanged a few verbal jabs on Facebook as Navosha hinted that the refusal was an attempt to smother competition to RIA Novosti’s online projects. Mironyuk and RIA Novosti Executive Director Dmitry Tugarin are members of the Russian Olympic Committee’s press commission, the group that made the decision to deny Sports.ru.
Mironyuk addressed RIA Novosti’s employees today. One person captured the video of the speech and uploaded it to YouTube. The video has since been taken down, but has been partially transcribed by Sports.ru:
“Regarding the Olympics, we and our lawyers are working on finding an answer to whether we, as a dissolving organization, can legally spend to cover the Olympics or according to the law we must direct all the money to our employees and creditors. This will decide it; if we direct all the money we have to employees and creditors, the state will have to cover their Olympics by itself.”
The futures of RIA Novosti’s daughter companies, which include the sports-focused R-Sport, are in doubt now as well. RIA Novosti and R-Sport had been known for the best sports coverage in Russia. I’d be disappointed to lose them as a reliable source of KHL news.