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Friday, March 23, 2007

Thou Shalt Not Write About The Power in Moscow

The International Herald Tribune reports that, after Russia killed the first editor of Forbes, it has sued the second for defamation and won:

The editor in chief of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine has been found guilty of defamation in a dispute over an article about a business run by the wife of the mayor of Moscow.

In a legal interpretation that is likely to further chill journalism in Russia, a city court in Moscow on Wednesday ruled against the editor, Maksim Kashulinsky, not for the contents of the article but for commenting publicly on the controversy surrounding its publication.

Kashulinsky said in a radio interview before the article was published that Inteko — a company controlled by Yelena Baturina, the wife of the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov — had tried to block publication of the article. In doing so, the company had violated Russian law, he said.

Inteko, which deals primarily in real estate and construction, sued for a symbolic 106,500 rubles, or $4,090, equivalent to 1 ruble for each copy of the December print run of Forbes magazine that had Baturina on the cover. Forbes estimates that Baturina is worth $3.1 billion.

Kashulinsky said that he would appeal and that under Russian law, he was not obliged to pay while an appeal was pending.

Inteko issued a statement saying the judge's ruling had proved that the company's efforts to defend its business reputation were legal.

The article on Baturina discussed plans to prepare her business for her husband's eventual departure from the mayor's office and stirred up accusations that Baturina owed her success to her husband's public position.

Before the magazine went to press, Kashulinsky said, lawyers for Inteko threatened a lawsuit against Axel Springer, the German publisher of Forbes's Russian edition. Axel Springer briefly delayed the release of the issue, putting it on sale only after Kashulinsky had threatened to resign to protest the delay.

Amid the dispute, Kashulinsky gave an interview on Echo of Moscow radio in which he said Inteko's threat of a lawsuit had violated Russia's media laws and amounted to censorship.

After the issue hit the newsstands — a day late — Inteko sued both Axel Springer and Kashulinsky personally, saying his radio comments amounted to defamation.

Inteko is also seeking a symbolic 106,500 rubles from Springer for the article, which it called libelous. That case has not yet gone to court.

The case has been seen as a test of the independence of Russian-language editions of international magazines.

Such glossies are big business in Russia's booming consumer and advertising market; Cosmopolitan, Newsweek, Esquire and others publish Russian-language editions that blend international and local content.

But reporting aggressively on big business in Russia can be perilous. Kashulinsky's predecessor, Paul Klebnikov, was shot and killed on a Moscow street in 2004. Authorities have linked the slaying to his investigative work, but the case is still working its way through the Russian courts.

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