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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

GAZPROM Gobbles Up Komsomolka

The Moscow Times reports yet another revolting development on the Russian media front. After purchasing Kommersant, Russia's version of the New York Times, government-owned gas monopoly GAZPROM has now purchased Russia's version of USA Today, Komsomolskaya Pravda, which was already pretty much of a Kremlin mouthpiece anyway. But the KGB cowards never feel secure.

Gazprom will expand its extensive media clout by buying the country's most widely read newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, the head of Gazprom's media unit said Tuesday.

The deal had been widely anticipated since the tabloid's owner, Vladimir Potanin's Prof-Media, made clear that it wanted to get out of the newspaper business early this year.

Gazprom-Media, which owns NTV television and Izvestia, will complete the deal by early next year, said company head Nikolai Senkevich.

"We are rushing to do it by the end of the year, but it will probably happen in January," Senkevich said, Interfax reported. He said the deal was complicated but that there were no serious barriers to its completion.

He did not disclose the size of the deal. Industry insiders have said the newspaper is worth about $70 million.

KP editor Vladimir Sungorkin said he did not expect the new owner would meddle in the tabloid's editorial policy.

"Both Gazprom-Media and Komsomolskaya Pravda are quite serious professional organizations, and therefore we don't expect any revolutions," he said, Interfax reported.

Some of KP's political coverage is deferential toward President Vladimir Putin.

Its long-serving editor, Vladimir Mamontov, moved to Izvestia late last year after Prof-Media sold that newspaper to Gazprom-Media.

KP has a total readership of 8.4 million people, according to TNS Gallup Media. It is ranked No. 63 in the world by the World Association of Newspapers and prints 700,000 to 830,000 copies daily and 3.1 million on weekends.

Kremlin critics say President Vladimir Putin has squeezed media freedoms by bringing major newspapers and television channels under the control of state-run companies like Gazprom.

Analysts say the Kremlin is especially keen to bring major media outlets under its control ahead of presidential elections in 2008, when Putin must step down after two terms in office.

Gazprom, whose CEO is Putin ally Alexei Miller, has been on a shopping spree over the past four years, buying up electricity, media, nuclear and oil assets. The state has a majority stake in the gas monopoly. Gazprom-Media's other assets include Ekho Moskvy radio, NTV-Plus cable television,

Prof-Media, which is part of the Interros holding, has been moving away from politics and into entertainment for some time. This year, it has announced deals to buy three entertainment television channels: TV-3, 2x2 and Rambler.

Prof-Media also controls radio stations, a movie theater chain called Cinema Park and Central Partnership, Russia's largest independent film production and distribution company.

Its printing arm, Prof-Media Print, has been operating since 2004 in partnership with A-Pressen, Norway's second-largest media group, and it owns the weekly tabloid Express Gazeta and the sports daily Sovietsky Sport, along with a handful of business publications. This year, the company also acquired the Afisha publishing house.

An extensive fire gutted KP's offices on Ulitsa Pravdy in February, causing $2 million in damages, Sungorkin said.

The name Komsomolskaya Pravda means "Komsomol Truth." The word "komsomol," in turn, refers to an organization for young communists, an indoctrination program, a Soviet youth cult. Now, gentle reader, you may well be wondering how Russia's largest-circulating newspaper can still be calling itself by that name so many years after the fall of communism. After all, perhaps it is unlikely that Germany's largest-circulating newspaper would be called "The Hitler Youth Times." La Russophobe has no answer, unless it was a signal that Russians were just biding their time, waiting until the "good old days" of totalitarian dicatorship returned.

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