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Putin hand-picks loyalist to head new press agency

President Vladimir Putin tightened his grip on Russia’s news media by abolishing the RIA Novosti wire service and handing control of its successor to a controversial television anchor.

Putin decreed that Dmitry Kiselyov, known for his outspoken views about homosexuals and Ukraine’s ongoing street protests, will head the new agency, called Russia Today, according to a document published on the Kremlin’s website Tuesday.

Putin has been criticized for rolling back press freedoms and increasing state ownership of the country’s mass media. The decision to eliminate RIA, founded days after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, comes two weeks after billionaire Vladimir Potanin sold his media business to a group backed by OAO Gazprombank.

“There’s been a consolidation in the media that’s involved in outwardly directed propaganda,” said Boris Makarenko, deputy director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies. “The holding’s new boss wasn’t an accidental choice. They’ve taken a person with the ethos of a Soviet-era propagandist, not a journalist.”