Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Hard-Liners Threaten Izvestia; Hearst Counts on Yeltsin to Preserve Its Publishing Partner's Independence; Venture with Financial Times Unchanged

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Hard-Liners Threaten Izvestia; Hearst Counts on Yeltsin to Preserve Its Publishing Partner's Independence; Venture with Financial Times Unchanged

Article excerpt

On its 75th birthday, Izvestia's summerlong .struggle to preserve its recently obtained independence may be won only by putting it back under some form of state ownership.

Effectively independent since the failed August 1991 coup against Mikhail Gorbachev by Communist hard-liners, Izvestia has become a prize in a tug-of-war between the leader of popular opposition to the coup and a leader of his legislative opponents.

In late July the Russian Parliament, legislative refuge of former Communist Party officials and state-run industry managers, ordered the paper restored to government control. Its vote would make Izvestia the newspaper of the Congress of Peoples Deputies, and the legislators asked the Justice Ministry that it be reregistered as such.

The legislature's resolution took aim at Russian President Boris Yeltsin's announced determination to maintain a free press and his support for the now independent daily. The legislature regards itself as the successor to the Soviet parliament and heir to the newspaper it once controlled.

One month later, at a press conference during which he said he wanted the Russian Congress abolished and executive power increased, Yeltsin said he would give Izvestia and its facilities to its employees. The paper now circulates approximately four million copies.

An agency of the legislature said it would seize the assets of Izvestia Publishing House, but Yeltsin's government declared it protected property of the state, according to a report in We/Mbl.

The twice-monthly, published jointly in two languages by Izvestia and the Hearst Corp. (E&P, Feb. 29; June 6), quoted a decree published in Izvestia in which Yeltsin's government said it will turn Izvestia into a state newspaper and publishing complex.

Izvestia editor in chief Igor Golembiovsky rejected the July vote and said his staff would continue independent publication. The newspaper's status, he said, could be legitimately changed only by court order or by the Ministry of Press and Information.

Information Minister Mikhail Poltoranin joined Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar in condemning the vote. The president "said he would use all his legal powers to defend the newspaper," We/Mbl reported.

Golembiovsky also is a managing director of We/Mbl. A week after the resolution, his American counterpart, Hearst vice president Lee J. Guittar, said We/Mbl continues to operate on the assumption that Yeltsin will keep Izvestia a free paper.

"We're happy with our partner and the way they're performing," said Guittar, adding, "I can't imagine these guys continuing" under state control.

Guittar told E&P that state control of Izvestia "would have some jarring implications for us," and that Hearst could then find itself re-evaluating its options concerning We/Mbl, which earlier had hoped to go to weekly publication sometime this summer.

According to Guittar, We/Mbl has become established on its own in the Commonwealth of Independent States, and that foreign businesses there no longer nee d to operate as joint ventures with local enterprises.

We/Mbl reported that the resolution called upon the Justice Ministry to look into the legality of Izvestia's change to an employee-owned organization. It said the legislature also sought to take over the separate Izvestia Publishing House, which prints the Russian-language edition of We/Mbl in Moscow.

The paper's account said Parliament Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov targeted Izvestia when it brought suit against him following remarks before Parliament in which he called the paper boring, nearly bankrupt and without readership. …

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