Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 112

Vitaly Tretyakov’s removal as Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s chief editor is undoubtedly a major event in Russian journalism. While the paper did indeed experience serious financial difficulties on his watch–arrears in salary to the staff total some US$200,000–Tretyakov’s removal may mark the end of independent media in Russia.

When he founded Nezavisimaya Gazeta in 1991, Tretyakov planned to create a publication genuinely independent of both the authorities and big business that would serve as a kind of dispassionate judge in observing the conflict between the country’s different political groups. This idea worked during the paper’s initial years. The paper’s employees received very high salaries (by Russian standards) and the paper enjoyed the highest rating among “serious” (not mass circulation) publications. By 1993, however, it became clear that this approach was effective only for the first stage of Russia’s reforms. Nonetheless, Tretyakov refused to “sell out” to any of the country’s new “oligarchs,” despite pressure from some of the paper’s employees to do so. As a result, a majority of Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s best journalists left the paper that year to form another newspaper–Segodnya, under the sponsorship of Most-Bank head Vladimir Gusinsky.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s next crisis came in 1995, when its financial situation became so dire that the paper could no longer afford to publish. Yet, despite demands from the paper’s employees, Tretyakov again refused to find business “sponsors” for the paper. In response, the paper’s team removed him from the post of chief editor. This apparently finally forced Tretyakov to abandon his principles: He agreed to allow Boris Berezovsky to acquire a controlling share in the paper and was restored as the paper’s chief editor. In fact, Tretyakov re-occupied his old office essentially by force–accompanied by men armed with shotguns–and the paper’s employees were forced to hand over its official stamps to him. Tretyakov then simply announced that the meeting at which he was removed had been held illegally and that he was once again chief editor.

Nevertheless, Tretyakov again began to show independence once he returned as chief editor. The paper regularly published material that did not correspond with Berezovsky’s interests. In conversations with the Monitor’s correspondent, Tretyakov frequently emphasized that there was “a certain border” he would not cross regardless of what Berezovsky thought.

Tretyakov’s removal may not only demonstrate that it is impossible for independent media to exist in Russia today, but also be a sign of something even more alarming. A number of Nezavisimaya Gazeta employees believe that Tretyakov’s removal as chief editor and the liquidation of Gusinsky’s Media-Most empire–including the Segodnya newspaper, NTV television and Itogi magazine–are links in the same chain. According to this view, Berezovsky, having fallen out with President Vladimir Putin, has begun bargaining with the Kremlin and, as a result, the paper will end up under the authorities’ control. If things turn out this way, it will mean the final destruction of independent media in Russia.