Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Usmanov To Buy Kommersant

A report in Helsingin Sanomat says that Alisher Usmanov, generally considered a supporter of Russia's President Putin, has bought the Kommersant newspaper.

Update: However, RFE/RL Newsline notes:

In the latest in a string of media reports about the possible sale of the business daily "Kommersant," which is one of the few remaining major papers not controlled by the Kremlin, metals magnate Alisher Usmanov said on August 30 that he might buy the daily for about $200 million, "The Moscow Times" reported on August 31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5 and June 8 and 9, 2006). Usmanov said that he would not fundamentally change the editorial policy or management but would consider "improvements," such as more color. Self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who once owned the paper, told "The Moscow Times" by phone that Usmanov is a level-headed businessman who "doesn't let political passions get the better of him." Berezovsky added that "the authorities will try to influence the company's policies by leaning on Usmanov, of course, but I know that he is also very protective of his personal reputation. He will try to find a reasonable compromise in the interest of 'Kommersant' [that will] allow him to maintain as much independence as is possible in Russia today, while not spoiling his relationship with the authorities." "Forbes" puts Usmanov's personal fortune at $3.1 billion. He and his partners hold the country's largest iron-ore assets through the Metalloinvest holding company. He also works as a troubleshooter for the state gas monopoly Gazprom. Usmanov said, however, that he is under no pressure from the Kremlin to buy the daily, adding that it is "purely a business deal."

...AND SOME JOURNALISTS ARE CONCERNED. Some Russian websites and news agencies reported on August 31 that Usmanov has already concluded the deal to buy "Kommersant." Interfax, however, said that the "deal will be completed by the end of the week." Whatever the case may be, several journalists told that news agency that the daily will need to maintain its current editorial policy if it is to hold its position in the market. Rodionov publishing house President Aleksei Volin said that "'Kommersant' will lose its influence and its readers if they turn it into another [state-run daily] 'Rossiiskaya gazeta' or the printed counterpart" of the state-run television news program. Igor Yakovenko, who is a leader of the Russian Union of Journalists, said that the sale of "Kommersant" is linked to preparations for the 2007 parliamentary elections. He argued that the daily will either become the mouthpiece of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party or retain a certain degree of independence in order to maintain its credibility. Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told Interfax that Usmanov's
purchase of "Kommersant" "was carried out as a personal investment
and is not related to his work with Gazprom." PM

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