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BBC's FM broadcasts taken off air in Russia

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MOSCOW, August 17 (RIA Novosti) - The BBC's Russian-language service has been removed from the schedule of its distributor in Russia, on orders from the national media regulator, the British broadcaster said Friday on its Web site.

The BBC's Moscow-based FM distributor, Bolshoye Radio, said it had been told to withdraw BBC content or face closure. The Russian company's owner, financial group Finam, told the BBC that their broadcasting was "foreign propaganda."

Yevgeny Strelchik, an advisor to the head of the Russian media licensing commission, said that to receive a license for FM broadcasting, the BBC must present its broadcasting concept and receive approval from a federal competition commission, and added that Russian radio stations were facing similar problems.

The BBC's Russian Service can still be heard online, as well as on medium and shortwave frequencies in Russia. BBC executives said they would appeal the decision.

"The BBC entered into the relationship with Bolshoye Radio in good faith," said Richard Sambrook, director of BBC Global News. "We cannot understand how the license is now interpreted in a way that does not reflect the original and thorough concept documents."

He said the licensing agreement allowed for 18% of Bolshoye's content to be foreign-produced.

Finam told the BBC that Russia's media regulators required that all programming be produced by the station itself.

Western media have linked the move to a decline in U.K.-Russian relations, in particular an ongoing row over Moscow's refusal to extradite the key suspect in the murder of former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko. Foreign media also suggest Russia is curbing media freedom in the run-up to parliamentary elections in December and a presidential poll in March.

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