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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

How an European editor experiences press freedom in Russia

The Financial Times interviewed the Dutchman Derk Sauer, one of the most important publishers in Russia, and asked him about the situation of press freedom in Russia. Derk Sauer is founder and chief executive of the Russian publisher Independent Media, that was bought for $ 172 million by the Finnish media group SanomaWSOY earlier this year. Sauer, the first foreigner to "crack Russia's media market", publishes about 30 titles, including the English-language daily Moscow Times, Russia's Cosmopolitan, Men's Health and Playboy. Together with the Financial Times he publishes the financial daily Vedemosti. The Russian Cosmopolitan, successful through its original Russian content instead of pure translation, with one million copies sold every month is Europe's biggest magazine. It represents "at least 60 per cent" of the company's revenue.

Asked for how much press freedom there is in Russia, Sauer, who has been in Moscow for 16 years now, answered: "The Russian authorities have solved the problem quite cleverly, from their perspective. They have said, 'Well, we will control TV, and the newspapers we will leave free.' Independent news on television doesn't exist. But we and some other papers can write anything, because the authorities are very practical ... The funny thing about Russia: there is complete press freedom for the informed, but none for the uninformed. The informed, the people who read Vedomosti or Kommersant and papers like that, know a lot anyway because they also see satellite TV and the internet. There is no point trying to suppress us. It would just create a fuss and international criticism. We are even an alibi for the Russian authorities. Recently Walter Mondale, the American politician, was in Moscow, and he read the Moscow Times and said: 'Gosh, what press freedom!'"

But the press also seems to have no impact. Sauer said, "In Russia, the effect of what you publish is different from in the west: nothing happens. The role of the press only works if it is followed up. But we reveal something every week: that someone is corrupt, that the justice system has made a mistake, we reveal the craziest things. And nothing happens. Deathly silence. It is revealed that the ballot boxes were rigged in the elections. People just say, 'So you thought the elections weren't fixed? '"

Independent Media's net sales had grown to 70 million in 2004, with earnings of 10 million. It controls a third of advertising market for print media in Russia. The Financial Times states, "Inevitably mafiosi and oligarchs have become interested along the way." Since his Playboy editor was shot four years ago (but he survived), Sauer is accompanied by bodyguards.

Source: Financial Times (registration required)

Posted by Anna-Maria Mende on October 11, 2005 at 02:56 PM | Permalink

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