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Hang in there, friends ‘Meduza’ responds to censorship scandal at ‘Kommersant’

Source: Meduza
Anatoly Zhdanov / Kommersant

Kommersant’s billionaire owner, Alisher Usmanov, has forced out two of the newspaper’s journalists, Ivan Safronov and Maxim Ivanov, after they wrote a story claiming that Valentina Matviyenko might step down as Federation Council chairperson, to clear the way for Russia’s current Foreign Intelligence Service director, Sergey Naryshkin. You can read the article here.

Kommersant’s editor-in-chief and CEO, Vladimir Zhelonkin, told the newspaper Vedomosti: “We have parted ways with these journalists because our editorial standards were violated during the preparation of this story.” In other circumstances that are sadly absent in today’s Russia, Zhelonkin might have to explain exactly what editorial standards were broken, given that the newspaper’s entire politics desk resigned in protest, after Safronov and Ivanov were fired.

It’s remarkable that Zhelonkin specifically cites editorial standards. After all, since buying the media outlet, Alisher Usmanov has regularly and (it would seem) effectively interfered in Kommersant’s work. In other words, the newspaper’s owner and leadership have a lot to answer for, when it comes to violating editorial standards. Despite this meddling, Kommersant has still enjoyed phenomenal magnetism in the world of Russian journalism, continuing to attract dozens of world-class reporters, who undoubtedly reject censorship. It’s painful to watch from the outside, as the newspaper slowly declines and decays, and it’s impossible not to sympathize with those on the inside. For years, not just Kommersant’s staff, but also its readers and its competitors have hoped that this crisis would find some magical resolution. Unfortunately, it hasn't happened.

We know from sources in Kommersant’s publishing house that the article about Matviyenko so enraged Usmanov that he even discussed firing the head of the newspaper. In the end, however, the outlet’s management asked the authors of the story to leave, accusing them of violating editorial standards. It’s embarrassing even to imagine this conversation between journalists.

Meduza’s team includes several former Kommersant staff, but today’s events weigh on our entire newsroom. Russian journalism is losing professionals at an alarming rate, and reporters who quit aren’t leaving for another cool publication, but in most cases to find work in related areas, which is often nowhere. The whole industry is suffering, but today’s sadness belongs to a single department of a particular newspaper. We know that Kommersant is a family, and this family is now in trouble. Hang in there, friends.

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