Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 90

In a talk at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian Studies on Wednesday, May 6, Anne Nivat, a fellow at the center, summarized her recent research on the mass media in Russia. Media and politics are so tightly intertwined that “the list of media owners is a who’s who of the new Russian elite.”

Dr. Nivat noted that half a dozen conglomerates — some private, some based in state institutions — now dominate the national print and electronic media in Russia. These moguls are all homegrown, in contrast to the situation in east-central Europe, where foreign corporations have bought up most of the leading media outlets. The businessmen who took over the formerly state-controlled media have a variety of goals. Some of them use the media to make money, others use media control to bargain for political favors from the state, and some see a compliant media as a way of legitimizing their newly-won economic and political power in the eyes of the Russian masses. For some top financiers, “a newspaper is like a Mercedes 600,” a fashion accessory.

The first and most successful conglomerate to emerge was the Media-Most company, which was assembled by Vladimir Gusinsky and runs newspapers like Segodnya and Itogi and the commercial TV station NTV. The highly profitable NTV is used to subsidize Media-Most’s print operations. Gusinsky, who personally owns 70 percent of NTV shares, was awarded the license by presidential decree in 1993. It could be revoked at any time: not surprising, therefore, that NTV rallied to help reelect Boris Yeltsin in 1996.

A small number of print media are profitable and have managed to retain their political independence. These include the economics-oriented Kommersant-daily, the daily Moskovsky komsomolets and weekly Argumenty i fakty. Critics argue that the latter two papers have become increasingly tabloid and apolitical in order to maintain their large readerships.