Russia removes ITAR-TASS news agency director Vitaly Ignatenko

Ignatenko reportedly fired over inability to get to grips with social networks, mobile services

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2012, 4:06am


Russia's venerable ITAR-TASS news agency fired one of its Soviet-era giants as general director after nearly four decades of service that began at the height of the cold war.

The government said on Monday that Vitaly Ignatenko, who headed former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's press office, was being moved to a newly created position at the agency.

It did not explain either the dismissal or the decision to replace him with Sergei Mikhailov, 41, who handled the media for the vast Russian Railways state monopoly. But the Kommersant business daily said Ignatenko's sacking had been promised by Russia's deputy communications minister on his appointment in July.

The government was reported to be unhappy with the agency's inability to come to grips with the new media world of instant communications through social networks and mobile services that it completely lacked.

ITAR-TASS was viewed as the oracle of the Soviet Union's supreme leadership at the time of the 71-year-old's appointment as deputy general director in 1975. Then known as Tass, it was recognised as one of the world's most powerful media sources.

Ignatenko's career perfectly exemplified how the Soviet authorities viewed the media as a treasured source of propaganda against the imperial West.

He had an office in the futuristic cube headquarters of Tass and another at the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party's international information department. It was an agency that bred spies and he worked there as a deputy, too - a position that kept him out of the line of fire of domestic political intrigues.

Ignatenko then managed to survive a rapid 1980s succession of ancient leaders and build a bond with Gorbachev that lasted well past his dramatic ousting as the Soviet Union's first and last elected executive president. His remarkable longevity extended deep into the 1990s with brief appointments to the government and even state television.

Ignatenko preached an almost blind allegiance to the authorities that eventually made ITAR-TASS lose its edge and put it under threat as clients preferred its private rivals. The agency is now believed to be struggling financially and at risk of having its reputation eclipsed by fellow state news provider RIA Novosti and the privately owned Interfax.

Its re-emergence will be laid on the shoulders of a man who helped create Russia's first public relations heavyweight that still works closely with the government and partners with New York's Burson-Marsteller. Mikhailov and Partners was only the start for the star of Russia's glitzy world of the super-rich and extremely well connected. He also served as an adviser to President Vladimir Putin from 2004 to 2005.