Moscow's Media Putsch Leaves Journalists in a Bind

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  • Read Later Now that the Kremlin has completed its coup against the independent media owned by Vladimir Gusinsky, the journalists at NTV have lost their battle, while those at some of the group's magazines and newspapers have lost their jobs, too. What does the future hold for independent-minded journalists in Russia?

Andrew Meier: This was not a sudden development — the group's journalists have expected this for months, ever since Gusinsky's arrest last year. And it has forced them to do a lot of soul-searching. It raises the dilemma of whether you try to stay on under the new management and earn the title of "strikebreaker," or do you stand on your principles and little else?

Some of NTV's leading anchors and some of their best and best-known journalists have left for a smaller station based in Moscow, but there they'll also live under the threat of having their broadcast license taken away. There seems to be little refuge for the survivors of the Gusinsky media empire. The group's radio station, Echo Moscow, which was even more outspokenly critical of President Putin than NTV, hasn't yet been touched, but it may be only a matter of time.

The Kremlin's strategy has been to hobble NTV at the knees and then split up the Gusinsky empire, because there are journalists who need to make a living, and enough business interests at stake that people can be won over to the new Kremlin-backed management on the basis of purely economic and commercial need.

The government's strategy against NTV was to use the fact that it was heavily in debt to have the state-owned Gazprom company, its biggest creditor, take it over. And that's a weapon against most of the media, because other than Cosmopolitan, it's hard to find a single Russian publication that's not heavily in debt. So what options does that leave the Gusinsky group's journalists?

There are not many. There's the option of going to work for media outlets owned by Gusinsky's rival, oligarch Boris Berezovsky. But having criticized Berezovsky so heavily over the years, the amount of pride they'd have to swallow to go and work with him will be a real challenge to their journalistic integrity. Going to work for Berezovsky because Gazprom has taken over NTV is an incredibly tangled moral dilemma. As is staying on after having protested so fiercely against the Gazprom takeover. But these people also have to earn a living. It's not a good time to be a young, hardworking and well-educated Russian journalist right now, because attractive opportunities are few and far between.