The growing pressure on the Russian media group RBC reached a climax yesterday with the departure of three top editorial executives.
The editor of the RBC newspaper, Maxim Solyus, was fired, and both Elizaveta Osetinskaya, the media group’s editor-in-chief, and Roman Badanin, the editor of the RBC news agency, resigned.
In two years, the team had transformed the brand into an authoritative source of political and economic news. RBC is the only independent news outlet that has a following comparable to the official media.
“The departure of the RBC editors is a serious blow for independent journalism,” said Johann Bihr, head of the RSF Eastern Europe and Central Asia Desk. “It is obvious that investigative and in-depth journalism, the foundations of a quality press, is no longer tolerated in Russia. Large-scale corruption and illegal activity by the government are now clearly the best-kept state secrets.”
RBC earned its reputation with its uncompromising investigations into corruption on the part of the Russian elite, such as embezzlement of public funds, abuses of the tendering procedure the acquisition of wealth by senior officials and those close to the government.
After it covered the “Panama Papers” and its disclosures about the wealth of President Vladimir Putin’s presumed son-in-law in spring this year, it appeared increasing likely that RBC would be reined in. Its owner’s offices were searched, a criminal investigation was launched into its CEO and it was announced that Osetinskaya would taking sabbatical leave.
Although the management argued that financial reasons were behind the shake-up, no-one doubts that the three editors were forced out for political reasons. Several independent news outlets report that from now on editors at RBC will be requested to have all articles approved for publication by the group’s CEO. Several journalists were believed to be about to resign and others were waiting for the censor’s red pencil before drawing the appropriate conclusions.
The dismissal of the editorial leadership of an independent news outlet is one of the classic ways of taking control in Russia, ever since the television station NTV was brought to heel in 2001. After Gazeta.ru, Russia’s first news website, in 2001, in 2014 Lenta.ru was reined in over its coverage of the conflict in Ukraine. As a rule, the titles that are targeted become innocuous or turn their attention to topics such as fashion, or else become propaganda mouthpieces, as happened to the official news agency RIA Novosti.