Investors threaten freedom of Russian media
August 11, 1997
Web posted at: 2:21 p.m. EDT (1821 GMT)
From Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty
MOSCOW (CNN) -- In the former Soviet Union, the media were
under strict Communist censorship. But with the collapse of
Communist one-party rule, the media have become a battlefield
of often aggressively competing commercial interest groups.
During the Communist days, Izvestia (The News) was the
official government newspaper, the censored voice of the
Since then, Izvestia has become one of Russia's most
independent and democratic newspapers.
But last month, the Izvestia's editor in chief quit in
disgust, saying the paper and the Russian media were now
threatened with a new kind of censorship: financial empires
with a political agenda.
"It won't be the Soviet-style total control. The system and
the times have changed. But I'm afraid there will be no
completely independent press left," said Igor Golembiovsky.
Last year, the paper was in trouble and was looking for
investors as the former 10 million circulation figure had
plummeted to 600,000.
Two Russian financial giants, Lukoil and Uneximbank, stepped
in and bought most of the Izvestia stock.
Golembiovsky and his new owners soon clashed over editorial
content. Izvestia claimed Lukoil was trying to censor the
newspaper, but a company spokesman denied it.
"What's a free press? To be free to take bribes for getting a
story published? To be free to publish unverified
information? To make a boring newspaper? Be my guest. Let
them find the money somewhere else," said Lukoil
Vice President Leonid Fedun.
Throughout Russia, media outlets have become prime targets
for investment. "It's no secret that the mass media are one
of the most profitable markets, ranking third or fourth after
arms sales, oil, gas and aluminum," said Vyacheslav Kostikov,
vice president of Media Most.
Gasprom, which holds Russia's natural gas monopoly, has
stakes in, or supports, more than two dozen newspapers and
Businessman Boris Berezovsky, a member of President Boris
Yeltsin's security council, runs a mass media empire that
includes television, a newspaper and a major magazine.
Media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky owns newspapers, magazines,
radio and television stations.
Some of these holdings overlap in a complex web of financial
power and politics.
In some cases, interests have clashed and ignited a media
war. This was the case last month, when a battle erupted over
the sale of the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest.
Most of the media barons are supporters of Yeltsin and
provided crucial help during last year's presidential
And observers say the current frenzy over buying up the media
has one common denominator: the next presidential election
three years from now.
Related sites:Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
- Izvestia Online - the electronic information division of Izvestia
- Lukoil - information about the company's activities in both Russian and English
- Russian Stock Market Guide - site created to provide clear definitions of the organization of the Russian stock market and to explain the key features of equity trading in Russia
- Russian Story - Russian Periodicals Online
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