Yesterday's Paper?

Russian Daily's Future in Doubt

Igor Golembiovsky
Igor Golembiovsky in happier days (Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP).

Call it censorship or call it a business decision, but the effect is still the same. Last week, the Russian daily Novye Izvestiya suspended publication, and its general director, Igor Golembiovsky, was removed from his post. The future of the paper, which has been highly critical of President Vladimir Putin, remains in doubt, as the owners, who include exiled businessman Boris Berezovsky, struggle for control of the newspaper.

The demise of Novye Izvestiya would mean the loss of the second quality Russian newspaper in less than year. Last May, the liberal weekly Obshchaya Gazeta ended a 10-year run when it was sold by its editor in chief, Yegor Yakovlev. In 2001, Gazprom, the natural gas giant, shut down much of Vladimir Gusinsky’s media empire, including the liberal daily Segodnya.

In an environment in which the Russian media have become increasingly circumspect toward the government, Novye Izvestiya has pulled few punches. After the terror attack on the theater in Moscow in fall 2002, it ran a banner headline on its front page: “We Are All Hostages of the Kremlin” (Oct. 29). When the Kursk submarine sank in August 2000, the paper declared: “Nine Days of National Shame.” Perhaps only the semi-weekly Novaya Gazeta has been as fearless or boldly irreverent.

In an interview with the liberal Vremya MN, Novye Izvestiya’s deputy editor, Valeri Yakov, described the suspension of the newspaper on Feb. 20 as “a classic dispute between economic subjects” (Feb. 21). Seventy-six percent of the newspaper’s stock is controlled by the chairman of the board of directors, Oleg Mitvol, who dismissed Golembiovsky as general director. These shares, however, are actually owned by Boris Berezovsky, according to Yakov. The other 24 percent of the stock is held by the newspaper’s employees.

“Maybe it is only a coincidence, but in recent issues we have published some rather tough articles on Putin—articles such as ‘They Are Terribly Far from the People’ and ‘Plus Putinization of the Entire Country.’ For the issue that was suspended and now will not come out we were preparing an article about the failure of Russia’s foreign policy, the situation in Iraq, and those mistakes that, in our opinion, have been made by the Kremlin.”

Though Golembiovsky was to retain his title as editor in chief, he said he would resign. Mitvol explained that Golembiovsky’s dismissal from his management post was due to financial improprieties.

Golembiovsky launched Novye Izvestiya, which means “New News,” in 1998, after he and other journalists lost a battle for the financial and editorial control of the much larger daily Izvestiya. Novye Izvestiya was Russia’s first full-color daily. It contains little advertising and has a print run of some 100,000 copies. It has no Web site.

According to the centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Berezovsky said the change in management, which was accompanied by a change in security guards at the newspaper office, amounted to an “armed seizure” (Feb. 25). In his opinion, “[T]he Kremlin gave the order to take over Novye Izvestiya because it was irritated by the paper’s independent position; the Kremlin doesn’t like Golembiovsky, [Otto] Latsis, Yakov, [Sergei] Agafonov, and other journalists that it can’t control.”