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‘A runaway bus’ Russian government denies federal aid to ‘Vedomosti,’ citing newsroom scandals as a reason to withhold ‘strategic’ status

Source: Meduza

According to a report by Vedomosti on April 28, Russia’s Communications Ministry has declined to add the newspaper to its list of “strategic enterprises,” citing two reasons: (1) its audience is too small and (2) its newsroom scandal makes it unstable and threatens to drive away readers.

In March 2020, Vedomosti’s owners announced a preliminary agreement to sell the newspaper to “Versiya” publishing house head Konstantin Zyatkov and “Arbat Capital” director Alexey Golubovich. Soon thereafter, Andrey Shmarov was appointed as acting editor-in-chief, who promptly alienated the staff with insensitive comments and multiple attempts to censor Vedomosti’s reporting.

For example, Shmarov rewrote a headline about Rosneft (to make the story sound more favorable), deleted an op-ed about Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, and ordered staff to stop mentioning any sociological work by the Levada Center and cease all criticism of constitutional amendments that will allow Vladimir Putin to remain in office until 2036.

The federal agency has designated 79 enterprises as “strategic,” including newspapers like Komsomolskaya Pravda, Moskovsky Komsomolets, and the country’s other two major business publications, Kommersant and RBC. The entities on this list receive priority access to government aid and subsidized loans for working capital financing. 

Previously, the only criterion the Communications Ministry specified for its designations was that publications must have a monthly audience of at least 10 million people. Between March 30 and April 28, Vedomosti’s audience was 14.2 million readers, but federal officials averaged the newspaper’s reach over several months and determined that the past 30 days are not representative (for example, Vedomosti’s audience was only 6.9 million people in February). 

Deputy Communications Minister Alexey Volin told Vedomosti that the government’s list of strategic publications is meant for outlets that will capture large market niches for the foreseeable future, and even Vedomosti’s own staff have warned that recent actions by acting editor-in-chief Andrey Shmarov are chasing away readers. “Since Vedomosti’s shareholders don’t plan to change the acting editor-in-chief, it’s reasonable to expect the disappearance of the existing audience,” Volin explained, adding that the newspaper now resembles “a runaway bus” and cannot be designated as strategic. 

A day later, on April 29, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov argued that newsroom staff relations should not “under any circumstances” influence strategic-enterprise designations, though he redirected questions about Vedomosti to the Communications Ministry.

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Cover photo: Pixabay

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