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Last Updated: Friday, 30 January, 2004, 17:48 GMT
Russia chides BBC's 'repentance'
Departing BBC Director-General Greg Dyke with supportive staff
"Political pressure" to blame for BBC woes, Lesin said
Russia's minister for the media has said "serious political pressure" triggered the resignations of BBC bosses Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke.

Mikhail Lesin compared the apology issued by the BBC with those of Soviet writers criticised by the Communist Party during the years of "stagnation".

He warned the BBC against "sterile coverage, not only of Iraq but also of other government-related activities".

The Russian Government itself has been accused of restricting media freedom.

As press minister in 2001, Mr Lesin backed the controversial purchase of NTV, Russia's only independent national TV channel, by the gas giant Gazprom, which is close to the Kremlin.

Gazprom's accumulation of media interests - which included the news magazine Itogi and now-defunct newspaper Sevodnya - was widely seen as an attempt by the state to silence its media criticis.

'Painful'

Now journalists at the Ekho Moskvy radio station - Russia's last major independent broadcaster - say they are caught up in constant disputes with Gazprom, their majority shareholder.

Mr Lesin, quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency, said that "traditionally, the BBC has been an example of true media independence".

He said he was "amazed" by the "repentant tone" of BBC managers following the release of the Hutton report, which strongly criticised the BBC while largely absolving the UK Government of blame in connection with the apparent suicide of weapons expert David Kelly.

"Such statements painfully resemble those of Soviet writers responding to the criticisms of the Communist Party during the years of Soviet stagnation," Mr Lesin said.

"So far such tendencies have mainly been characteristic of American TV networks, and it would be regrettable if such an atmosphere spread to Europe," he added.




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