Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 75

The campaign against Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most group accelerated yesterday, when Gazprom-Media pulled the plug on the Segodnya newspaper and removed the existing editor and team of journalists at the weekly magazine Itogi. The decisions were made by Dmitry Biryukov, head of the Seven Days publishing house, who owns a 25-percent stake in it. Earlier this year he switched his allegiances from Gusinsky to Gazprom-Media, thereby giving the latter, which holds a 25-percent-plus-one-share stake in Seven Days, de facto control over the publishing house. Yesterday’s edition of Segodnya (April 17) was pulled from the printers at the last minute on the evening of April 16. Its editor, Mikhail Berger, was fired yesterday, and its journalists were denied entry into its offices. Biryukov, who had earlier said that Segodnya would continue publishing until May 1, said yesterday that he had decided it was senseless to continue publishing: The paper, he said, was losing US$3 million a year. He also accused Berger of having put “political pressure” on Segodnya journalists to protest Gazprom’s moves against Media-Most and its outlets–a charge similar to the one made against Yevgeny Kiselev, the former general director and chief editor of Media-Most’s NTV television. Gazprom–the 38-percent state-owned natural gas company and Media-Most’s main creditor–carried out a hostile takeover of NTV’s board during an April 3 shareholders’ meeting which Gusinsky and his allies denounced as illegal, and on April 14, the new managers occupied NTV’s offices and studios at the Ostankino television center (see the Monitor, April 16). Like NTV, Segodnya was critical of President Vladimir Putin and his policies, and frequently featured articles on alleged Kremlin corruption, including the so-called Mabetex case.

Meanwhile, the entire staff of Itogi–a joint venture with the U.S. magazine Newsweek–was laid off yesterday, including the chief editor, Sergei Parkhomenko. Biryukov confirmed that a group of former Segodnya employees would produce a new version of Itogi, which would be published starting next week. Newsweek released a statement last night calling the changes at Itogi “serious and disturbing” and saying that it was suspending its relationship with the Russian magazine while it sorted out the facts surrounding the changes. For their part, Berger and Parkhomenko, the ousted editors of Segodnya and Itogi, said they would resume their publications under a new publisher and financial backer–whom they did not name, but who is widely assumed to be Gusinsky–and possibly using the old titles, depending on negotiations with Gazprom and Seven Days. Berger said that he and the fired Segodnya staff could start putting out an Internet version of the paper by next week (Vedomosti, Moscow Times, April 18;, April 17-18; Radio Ekho Moskvy, April 17-18).

In the meantime, the newspaper Novye Izvestia, which is controlled by Boris Berezovsky, has begun publishing articles by former Segodnya staff members, including Berger (Novye Izvestia, April 17). Likewise, TV-6–the Moscow-based television channel 75-percent controlled by Berezovsky–began yesterday to broadcast news programs produced by members of the ousted NTV staff. Over the weekend, Berezovsky and his management team at TV-6 offered Kiselev the job of the channel’s general director. Kiselev provisionally accepted the offer, but put forward two conditions: that TV-6’s current team be maintained and that legal safeguards protecting the journalists and managers from the channel’s owners be instituted (see the Monitor, April 16). The ousted NTV journalists’ arrival at TV-6 has not been universally welcomed by TV-6 employees: Two senior executives, including the channel’s executive director, Aleksandr Ponomarev, resigned yesterday citing the change in the station’s “political vector.” The channel’s news chief, Mikhail Ponomarev, has vowed to leave if Kiselev comes on board. Eighty-five TV-6 staffers have signed an open letter opposing the hiring of the NTV rebels. Berezovsky, who is abroad, tried to assuage the TV-6 staff yesterday. During a conference call he promised that they would keep their jobs and that funding would be increased and asked them to get along with the refugees from NTV. Some NTV staffers, meanwhile, are reportedly less than happy about working for Berezovsky and his team (, Moscow Times, Vedomosti, Kommersant, April 18; Radio Liberty, April 17).

Radio Ekho Moskvy, the website and the TNT television channel remain in Gusinsky’s hands–with TNT continuing to broadcast reports prepared by the ousted NTV team–but that could change in July if Media-Most is unable to pay off a large loan to Gazprom (see the Monitor, April 16). In the meantime, tax police have reopened a tax evasion investigation of TNT’s chief bookkeeper, while Gazprom lawyers are examining the legality of continuing to operate under that name (Russian agencies, April 16-17).