Dmitry Kiselyo
Dmitry Kiselyov has been appointed head of Russia’s new state news agency Rossiya Segodnya – Russia Today (YouTube)

President Vladimir Putin has appointed a controversial news anchor, who once said that homosexuals should have their hearts burnt after death, as head of Russia's newly restructured state-owned news agency.

Dmitry Kiselyov has been named chief executive of Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today), which was set up by an unexpected presidential decree to replace the longstanding Ria Novosti and Voice of Russia media outlets.

It was a move described by critics as another Kremlin crackdown on free speech.

"The appointment of Dmitry Kiselev to his new position is a message from Putin, which says: You know what my course is and all those who disagree [with it] will be burned as the hearts of gays," opposition activist Andrey Sidelnikov told IBTimes UK.

"All masks are off and now, openly, everyone [who disagrees] 'will be cornered in the toilets and wiped out' as Putin once said."

Kiselyov is one of Russia's most renowned anchormen and hosts a weekly news programme on Rossiya state television. He has often used it as a platform to slam Western values and home-grown government critics.

In August he was accused of homophobia after comments he made about a controversial law banning gay propaganda in April 2012 resurfaced on the internet.

"I think banning gays from distributing propaganda to children is not enough," Kiselyov said.

"They should be banned from donating blood or sperm, and if they die in a car crash, their hearts should be burnt or buried in the ground as unsuitable for the continuation of life."

More recently, Kiselyov, who has a degree in Scandinavian literature, drew criticism for describing a Swedish children's programme designed to teach kids about their bodily functions and called "Poop and Pee" as the symbol of Western moral decadence.

Kiselyov also once famously compared supporters of opposition activist Alexei Navalny to those of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

As head of the new state news agency, Kiselyov said he will work to restore a fair attitude towards Russia around the world.

The Kremlin said that Ria Novosti and Voices of Russia were being restructured for reasons of budget and efficiency.

"The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia's news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector," Ria Novosti wrote in the article announcing its closure.

Rossiya Segodnya is to remain a separate entity from the Kremlin's English-language TV channel Russia Today, despite the shared name.