Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Russia to respect its international obligations as the Kremlin continues its favourite method for reining in independent newspapers that respect journalistic ethics – their acquisition by friendly businessmen. The latest victim is the Moscow business daily Vedomosti.
It was one of Russian’s best publications but this prestigious newspaper is now owned by Ivan Yeremin, a businessman known for his links with the authorities and the leaders of Russia’s biggest state companies.
Under his command, the new editor, Andrei Shmarov, is continuing to assert his control over the newspaper. His latest act of censorship was to delete two articles from the Vedomosti website about the week-long “popular” vote that ended on 1 July on constitutional amendments allowing Vladimir Putin to rule until 2036.
Despite repeated editorial interference in defence of the state oil giant Rosneft and the Kremlin since his appointment as editor in March, Shmarov was confirmed in his post on 15 June over the editorial staff’s opposition. The six deputy editors announced their departure the same day, as did a dozen other journalists who had not appreciated his meddling.
Around 50 other journalists, the majority of those who have stayed, have formed a Journalists' and Media Workers' Union cell within the newspaper. In talks with the management, their representatives demanded an end to the censorship and adherence to the newspaper’s code of ethics, under which the editor in chief cannot delete already published articles from the site or significantly modify them without first consulting with the editorial staff.
If they don’t succeed in getting the management to change its current course, Vedomosti will forever cease to be the newspaper its readers knew for 20 years. Many of them have already announced in posts on social media or in the comments sections that they intend to cancel their subscriptions.
“Ivan Yeremin has broken his promise to not meddle in the newsroom’s work and to respect Vedomosti’s exemplary code of conduct,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“This change of ownership is the latest in a long series of violations of independent journalism and predatory behaviour by Kremlin allies. As a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Moscow is meant to protect freedom of opinion and expression, which can only be guaranteed by respecting the right to reliable information.”
The founder of FederalPress, a media group that has won hundreds of state contracts, Yeremin described himself in an interview for RBC on 1 June as “the main guardian of the dogma” – Vedomosti’s code of conduct – although the new editor has repeatedly trampled on it.
Yeremin also claimed not to know all the financial details behind the newspaper’s acquisition, which he said had been “prepared by my lawyers.” According to a joint investigation by Meduza, The Bell, Forbes and Vedomosti, an enormous debt of nearly 30 million euros incurred by Vedomosti’s former owner, Demyan Kudryavtsev, was taken over by Rosneft’s bank in 2017.
No sale would have been possible without settling this issue. Significantly, Rosneft spokesman Mikhail Leontyev reportedly had a hand in Shmarov’s appointment as editor in March.
A joint project by Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Finnish media group Sanoma, Vedomosti established itself as Russia’s leading business newspaper after its creation in 1999. These three investors had to sell their shares after a new law in 2015 banned foreign investors from owning more than 20% of a Russian media outlet.
Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.