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Metals Oligarch Buys Up Daily Newspaper

Published: September 5, 2006 (Issue # 1201)


MOSCOW — Kommersant’s editor said Sunday that the sale of his newspaper to metals magnate Alisher Usmanov had been completed but the new owner had yet to send any representatives to the newspaper’s offices.

The sale nevertheless threatens to alter irrevocably the country’s media landscape by putting the country’s last independent-minded nationally-owned daily into the hands of a billionaire who is thought to be close to First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and has a reputation of being a tough-talking negotiator.

It also highlights a broader Kremlin-backed strategy of national media buyouts by loyal businessmen and the state-owned Gazprom behemoth. After the takeovers, the coverage of the once independent-minded news organizations has become comparatively bland and toothless.

“We thought that after they took over all national television channels, the authorities would leave newspapers — which have a far more limited reach than television — in peace. We were mistaken,” said Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.

National newspapers that criticized the authorities — including Izvestia, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Gazeta and Moskovskiye Novosti — have been snapped up by Gazprom or businessmen loyal to the Kremlin in recent years and adopted a more pro-Kremlin line in their editorial policy.

“I am afraid the same fate awaits Kommersant,” Panfilov said.

Some Kommersant journalists have expressed the same concern, but the newspaper’s editor, Vyacheslav Borodulin, suggested it was too early to tell.

Borodulin said Sunday that the acquisition of the Kommersant publishing house, which includes the daily business newspaper, had been completed, but several formalities might remain.

He also said that Usmanov’s representatives had not visited the editorial offices so far, contradicting a Kommersant reporter who said Thursday that Usmanov’s business team was visiting the offices.

Borodulin said no journalists had resigned or were expected to resign over the sale. As for the imminent departure of deputy editor Alexander Shadrin, Borodulin said that Shadrin first announced his intention to leave three months ago and that the decision was unrelated to Kommersant’s ownership.

While Borodulin’s remarks appeared to be an attempt to soothe fears about what might happen next at his newspaper, former Kommersant owner Boris Berezovsky seems to have changed his mind about the prudence of the sale to Usmanov.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Jan. 29



Attend a master class on how to deal with complicated business negotiations today at the International Banking Institute, 6 Malaya Sadovaya Ulitsa. Running from 3 to 6 p.m., Vadim Sokolov, an assistant professor at the St. Petersburg State University of Economics, will introduce aspects of managing the negotiation process and increasing its effectiveness. Attendance is free with pre-registration by telephone on 909 3056 or online at www.ibispb.ru



Celebrate what would be writer Anton Chekhov's 155th birthday at the Bokvoed bookshop at 46 Nevsky Prospekt. Starting at 5 p.m., the legendary author will be feted with readings of his stories and short performances based on his plays by various St. Petersburg actors. Chekhov's books will also be offered at a 15% discount during the event.



Friday, Jan. 30



The Lermontov Central Library, 19 Liteyny Prospekt, will screen 'Almost Famous’ in English with Russian subtitles at 6:30 p.m. Cameron Crowe's Academy Award-winning comedy from 2000 stars Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, and Patrick Fugit, and tells the story of a budding music journalist at Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s. Admission is free.



Meet renowned Russian poet, journalist and writer Dmitry Bykov, famous for his biographies of Boris Pasternak, Bulat Okudzhava and Maxim Gorky, and winner of 2006 National Bestseller Award. Bykov will read old and new poems as well as answer questions about his works at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Main Hall, at 7 p.m. Tickets start at 1,000 rubles and are available at city ticket offices and the from the Philharmonic website www.philharmonia.spb.ru.



A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of ‘Repulsion’ at 7 p.m. and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy ‘The Tenant,’ the cult comedy ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ and ‘Cul-de-sac’ among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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