Europe, Media wars, New in Lobbying

Russian news outlet inks $5.2 million deal with DC production company

Russia’s state-run Rossiya Segodnya news agency has hired a new Washington, DC production company to create radio and web content for its Sputnik multimedia platform.

The agency signed a year-long, $5.2 million contract in August with a limited liability company called Ghebi, according to a new lobbying disclosure under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Ghebi was incorporated last September by Mindia Gavasheli, the editor-in-chief of RIA Global, another US production company working for Sputnik. The only registered agent on the account is Christopher Pyburn, the managing director for RIA Global.

Gavasheli and Pyburn did not respond to requests for comment about whether the new company was meant to replace or complement RIA Global. Last year RIA signed a $9.4 million contract with Rossiya Segodnya covering 2019 and 2020.

According to the registration, Ghebi will distribute content on both Sputnik’s website and, a podcasting site. The company received a 30 % down payment of $1.56 million in August.

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The company is expected to “convey topical, relevant and reliable information on key aspects of the news agenda in the region, the world and Russia to the regional audience, in accordance with the customer’s editorial policy,” it said in its filing with the US Department of Justice. “To develop and implement new media communications technology in the world’s largest media market in the interests of the customer. To increase recognition of the English-language Sputnik newswire and raise awareness in the international mass media market.”

In its filings with the Department of Justice, Ghebi insists that its production of “shows, newswires and web articles remains under [its] independent editorial control.” Its contract with Russia however suggests otherwise (h/t Lachlan Markay of the Daily Beast, who first noted the discrepancy on Twitter).

Screenshot from Ghebi’s contract with Rossiya Segodnya

The new filings offer other revealing insights into Russian media’s rate structure and work flows. Ghebi for example is expected to produce at least 30 30-minute radio segments and 1,000 news pieces between 250 and 1,000 words long.

The registration comes as Russian media has come under intense scrutiny over the past few years amid allegations of Russian meddling in the US elections.

The Department of Justice required RIA Global to register under FARA in 2018. The two US operators that carry Sputnik radio programming on the FM and AM dial, Reston Translator and RM Broadcasting, have also had to register.