‘This is an open attempt to repress free speech in Russia’ A statement by Kommersant’s employees following the mass resignation of their colleagues
The staff of Kommersant, a major Russian newspaper, has posted a public statement to the publication’s readers after two of its journalists were forced to resign this morning and the entire politics department followed suit in protest. At the time of this publication, more than 120 Kommersant employees had signed on to the statement. It is translated in full below.
Today, our newsroom received official notice that the Kommersant Publishing House broke off its working relationship with two of our coworkers, special correspondent Ivan Safronov and deputy politics editor Maxim Ivanov. On paper, the resignations followed an “agreement among all parties involved,” and representatives for Alisher Usmanov, a businessman and Kommersant shareholder, told Vedomosti that Usmanov “does not interfere in editorial politics, let alone make decisions about firing or hiring journalists.” One representative clarified, “Mr. Usmanov found out about the resignations of Kommersant’s employees from subsequent press coverage.”
In fact, our colleagues have argued, the decision to remove them from the staff was explained to them as a demand made by Alisher Usmanov himself. That decision was triggered by an article titled “They make speakers out of these people,” which discussed the possibility that Valentina Matvienko might leave her post as the chairperson of the Federation Council. As often happens in contemporary Russian politics, the piece included information and quotes given by anonymous sources. The article corresponded perfectly with Kommersant’s standards; Kommersant always relies on sources that are both trustworthy and verified. Furthermore, immediately after its publication, the authors of the article were given a prize for their work (Kommersant traditionally issues symbolic awards to the authors of each issue’s best features).
According to our colleagues, our shareholder expressed dissatisfaction with the article after the fact and demanded that the identities of the anonymous sources mentioned in the piece be revealed. In keeping with Russian federal media laws and Kommersant’s own labor contracts, the publication is obligated to maintain the confidentiality of its sources. It has no right to name a source who spoke with its representatives on condition of anonymity. Exceptions can only be made to comply with court subpoenas. Kommersant’s journalists refused to violate the trust of their sources. Afterward, the decision was made to fire two of the article’s authors. Direct appeals to our shareholder and his representative had no effect; the shareholder did not propose any compromises or alternative courses of action.
Maxim Ivanov worked at Kommersant for more than 10 years. Ivan Safronov had just a few months left before his tenth work anniversary at Kommersant. His father, Ivan Safronov, Sr., also worked here for 10 years before he died tragically in 2007; he remains a model of professionalism for the entire newsroom. Max and Vanya are brilliant, professional journalists and decent, intelligent people. Kommersant’s staff — whether full-time, freelance, regional, technical, online, or on the air — considers their firing to be entirely groundless and disastrous for our newsroom. It is also an open attempt to repress free speech in Russia.
This publication’s editorial standards have been formed over the course of three decades by its founder and its staff. In that time, the newspaper has had several owners and several editors-in-chief, but it has continued to operate according to high editorial standards. Now, individuals who have undoubtedly found success in other fields but have no experience in journalism have interfered in those standards. While the article was being prepared for publication and after it was released, no complaints about its compliance with our standards arose. We must acknowledge that what occurred in this case was an attempt to exert direct pressure on our journalists.
After Max’s and Vanya’s forced resignations, the entire politics department also wrote a letter of resignation. Currently, deputy managing editor Gleb Cherkasov; politics editor Alla Barakhova; deputy editor Mariya-Luiza Tirmaste; special correspondent Anna Pushkarskaya; and correspondents Natalia Korchenkova, Alexandra Georgievich, Sophia Samokhina, Liza Miller, Katerina Grobman, Viktor Khamraev, and Vsevolod Inutin will all be leaving their posts in the very near future.
Kommersant’s staff feels an obligation to notify our readers that Kommersant will, for an indefinite period, be unable to inform them about Russian politics. The publication’s readers, partners, and advertisers will be deprived of high-quality, unbiased coverage of numerous domestic political events, and we do not know for how long this situation will persist. A forced interruption of this nature has never before occurred in the 30-year history of this publication. We offer readers our apologies.
It is possible that some members of our readership will manage to explain to Kommersant’s shareholders that they are, right now, ruining one of Russia’s best media sources. Kommersant’s work is important for our entire society and our entire country. Those who destroy it for short-term political gain have a poor understanding of Russian history. We are certain that our country deserves a better future. It deserves freedom of speech.
Translation by Hilah Kohen