INTERNATIONAL: INTERNATIONAL ISSUES; The media tycoons who dominate Russia’s political arena

Yeltsin has media barons to thank for his return to power, Will Stewart writes

Yeltsin has media barons to thank for his return to power, Will Stewart writes

As Boris Yeltsin was laid low by heart surgery, news seeped out that his

power base was buttressed by seven big industrialists. Among them are

Russia’s two biggest media tycoons, Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir


Between them, they influence more than 50 per cent of Russia’s media, an

astonishing fact considering Berezovsky is now inside the government as

the deputy head of the Kremlin’s security council.

In the old days, it was said Soviet leaders could control the country by

relying on the two main newspapers, Pravda (‘truth’) and Izvestia

(‘news’), the joke being that there was no news in Izvestia and no truth

in Pravda. Today, the country has changed and Yeltsin has come to rely

on these Russian-style Murdochs. It is widely believed that the support

of their TV channels and newspapers was the biggest single factor behind

Yeltsin’s return to power.

Nicholas North, the managing director of Russian Research, which runs

the country’s largest TV audience research panel, says: ‘Their support

helped Yeltsin win the election. It was noticeable that the three main

stations - ORT, RTR and NTV - featured him in a positive light, while

other candidates were not covered much.

‘Since the election, the big channels have protected the status quo.

They are not noticeably pro-Yeltsin, but they are seeking to maintain

the current situation.’

Nor do the media moguls deny their influence. Berezovsky says: ‘I never

tried to conceal that I see ORT [Russia’s most popular TV channel] as a

powerful medium to influence people. And I’m not such an altruist that I

do not use it to defend public interests which I consider important for


Through his main company, Logovaz, and a network of associates,

Berezovsky has significant influence at the government-controlled ORT.

He holds a lot of sway at TV-6, Russia’s fastest-growing network, and at

the newspaper, Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Gussinsky owns NTV, Russia’s largest privately-owned channel, the

Segodnya newspaper and Ekho Moskvy radio. Last month he made a bid for

Izvestia. His operations are handled through his Most group, dominated

by Russia’s giant Most bank.

He and Berezovsky are also said to have stakes in Video International,

which controls all advertising airtime on three out of Russia’s four

major networks.

It all adds up to a sizeable influence over the information devoured by

Russia’s media-hungry population. For now the media barons favour the

status quo. Yeltsin must be hoping it stays that way.

Will Stewart is Moscow correspondent for the Express and runs the

East2West news agency




Media              Description                   Gussinsky’s involvement

NTV                Independent TV channel.       Most Group is the

                  Total reach in European       largest shareholder

                  Russia: 46%.                  (41% of shares)

                  Famous for its news

                  and analytical


Seven Days         Publications: Segodnya        Most Group owns 100%

publishing house   daily newspaper,              of shares

                  circulation 50,000.

                  Seven Days weekly TV

                  guide, circulation 200,000.

                  Itogi weekly magazine

                  (joint publication with

                  Newsweek), circulation

                  50, 000

Echo of Moscow     Moscow independent            Most Group is the

radio station      radio station                 largest shareholder





Media                Description                Berezovsky’s involvement

ORT                  Largest Russian TV         51% of ORT shares belong

                    channel with national      to the state. Logovaz is

                    coverage. Total reach      the largest non-

                    in European Russia: 98%.   government shareholder

                    Known for traditional,


                    authoritative programming

TV-6 Moscow          Independent TV network.    Logovaz is the largest

                    Total reach in European    shareholder

                    Russia: 23%. One of the

                    steadily developing TV


Radio 1              Radio 1 is part of Radio   Berezovsky controls

                    Broadcast Corporation.     Radio 1 but does not own

                    Has almost national        the station


Nezavisimaya Gazeta  Independent daily          Berezovsky helps the

                    newspaper                  newspaper financially



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