On May 13, 2016, one of the few remaining independent Russian news companies, RBC, lost its three editors as a result of alleged political pressure from the Kremlin. After RBC’s editor-in-chief, Maxim Solyus, was dismissed from his position, two other editors, Roman Badanin and Yelizaveta Osetinskaya, resigned in protest. Critics and analysts suggest that RBC’s in-depth investigations of President Vladimir Putin’s family members and close allies, particularly in connection with the Panama Papers, sparked the Kremlin’s anger.
Unfortunately, RBC is just the latest in a long list of newsrooms that have been profoundly affected by the government’s crackdown on independent media over the past five years. In a piece published on May 18, online news outlet Meduza recounted at least a dozen instances of independent Russian media organizations – both big and small – being targeted by the regime for their editorial independence:
May 2016. RBC
What happened. As a result of pressure from the Kremlin (which Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, firmly denies), the news company lost its three top editors: Elizaveta Osetinskaya, Roman Badanin, and Maxim Soluys. Several department heads and other reporters have promised to resign in protest, saying June 30 will be their last day of work at RBC.
The outcome. It’s too soon to say. It remains unclear who will head RBC next. The same can be said about how much of the old newsroom will stay on. It’s also unclear what kind of relationship the next chief editor will build with the Kremlin and RBC‘s owner, Mikhail Prokhorov. Leaving his post, Maxim Soluys pointed out that police recently brought fraud charges against Nikolai Molibog, RBC‘s general director, and Derk Sauer, the vice president of the private investment bank Onexim, making it unlikely that the companies’ owner, Prokhorov, will escape this conflict unscathed.
January 2016. Forbes
What happened. Because of a new law restricting foreign ownership in Russian media companies, the German group Axel Springer was forced to sell off its shares inForbes and other assets in Russia. Negotiations with potential buyers lasted several months, concluding in late 2015. Initially, it was assumed that 20 percent of the company would remain with general director Regina von Flemming, preserving a certain level of continuity with the previous owner. The deal fell through, however, and the businessman Alexander Fedotov ended up buying 100 percent of Forbes. According to Meduza‘s sources, Fedotov immediately started meddling in editorial policy, demanding the removal of various news stories. Chief editor Elmar Murtazaev refused to do this, and in no time he left Forbes “for personal reasons” in mid-January 2016.
The outcome. After Murtazaev, Forbes hired as its next chief editor Nikolai Uskov, a journalist with no experience in business reporting. Uskov quickly announced that his Forbes wouldn’t be about politics, though he vowed to remain a thorn in the side of the powerful. What will become of Forbes should be clearer in the coming months, as the first of the long-form reports completed under his leadership start rolling out.
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