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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