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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Russian Papers Still Have No Editorial Pages

As Moscow Times Columnist Alexei Pankin reports:

At the beginning of last year, I was hired as the editorial page editor of the newspaper Izvestia and put in charge of a two-page daily section called "Opinion and Commentary." It's remarkable that with few exceptions -- such as The Moscow Times and Vedomosti, which were created by Western companies and organized in accordance with Western practices -- the editorial page, long a standard feature of quality newspapers around the world, simply did not exist in Russian newspapers before that time. My motto for the section was: "Here you will find friends and make enemies." I also contributed a weekly column on Fridays, in which I responded to readers' questions and complaints. I defended Izvestia's journalists from obviously unjust attacks, and on occasion I criticized Izvestia itself. In other words, I assumed the role of an ombudsman or readers' editor.

It's not hard to understand why. As Pankin explains:

Gazprom-Media, an arm of the state-controlled natural gas monopoly, bought a controlling stake in Izvestia in June 2005 from Prof-Media, a media holding in Vladimir Potanin's business empire. Last November, the new owners appointed a new executive editor. The new editor immediately made clear that Izvestia would no longer have any need for an ombudsman. By the end of the year, we both realized that we couldn't work together, and early this year we parted ways. I was the one who left the paper, of course, not the new editor.

In other words, not only does Moscow not believe in tears, it doesn't believe in the expression of opinion or debate, either. So, of course, President Putin did not participate in debates in either of his two bids for presidency, even though his only serious opposition came from the Communists, whom he allegedly opposes.

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