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BBC World Service removed from FM radio station; government pressure suspected

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is an IPI press release:

IPI Protests Removal of BBC World Service from Russian FM Radio

Vienna, 20 August 2007 - On 17 August, the management of Bolshoye Radio announced that it would no longer broadcast the BBC's World Service programmes in the Russian language. The radio station is the BBC's last FM partner in Russia.

News reports suggested that the Moscow FM radio station had been pressured by the authorities to halt the BBC's Russian Service.

The parent company of the radio station, Finam, which only took over the radio recently, said it had removed the programming because under the terms of its license it was only allowed to broadcast original material.

This is disputed by the BBC, which said in a press release that licensing documents reviewed last year gave Bolshoye Radio the right to broadcast external content up to a limit of approximately one-fifth of its total programming.

Commenting on the situation, IPI Director Johann P. Fritz said, "I hope that the removal of the BBC World Service from a Russian FM radio station is not the start of a return to cold-war limitations on press freedom and freedom of expression within Russia."

"Since 2000, the Russian government has sought to obtain greater control over information and has tightened its grip on the media, particularly broadcasting. In addition, foreign NGOs have also faced pressure from the authorities. With parliamentary elections later this year, and presidential elections in March 2008, it is possible that the removal of the BBC is part of a policy to control the media during this crucial period."

"I would encourage Bolshoye Radio to allow the BBC World Service to continue broadcasting on the station's airwaves and I would ask the authorities to do more to protect the right of the Russian people to receive a plurality of information from both national and international sources," added Fritz.

The BBC has faced similar problems in the past. On 24 November 2007, Radio Arsenal in Moscow stopped broadcasting the BBC's programme content. The decision to halt broadcasting occurred one day after the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London.

Subsequent attempts by the British authorities to extradite a Russian suspect in the Litvinenko case have led to mutual expulsions of diplomatic staff and a growing rift between the two countries. Commentators have suggested that this rift may also be the cause of the BBC's present problems with Bolshoye Radio.

Russia was placed on the IPI Watch List on 23 June 2000.

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