Print options

October 17, 2010

Russia Press Freedom Narrows With Newsweek Closure

by James Brooke

The Russian edition of Newsweek has unexpectedly closed, and Russia's leading opposition newspaper says it might be forced to close soon.

Russia Newsweek has joined a long list of independent media outlets that have either closed or fallen under government control during the past decade.

Since it opened in 2004, Russia Newsweek was seen as a hard hitting purveyor of independent news. Last year, it created an ad campaign that was seen as so skeptical of government officials that Moscow subway system and several billboard companies refused to run it.

The German publishing group Axel Springer announced it would not renew its license for the magazine franchise. Falling ad sales and weak circulation were cited as the cause.

Newsweek editor Mikhail Fishman told VOA:

"Of course our death is a huge loss, but we are not the last," he said.

With the magazine often seen as in opposition to the Kremlin, no Russian white knight came forward to save it. Newsweek was so controversial that last spring, a pro-Kremlin nationalist youth group posted attack videos against Fishman on its website.

The closing of the newsmagazine was announced after the nation's leading opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, lost a key court case on Friday.

A state media watchdog committee, Roskomnadzor, has issued a warning to the newspaper, faulting its reporting.

Newspaper spokeswoman Nadejda Prosenkova said another warning would be enough for closure.

The closure of Newsweek, she said, could become a trend.

During the past decade of dominance of Russian politics by Vladimir Putin, all television stations have fallen under state ownership or control. In print or on the airwaves, independent voices are increasingly rare.

The director of studies for Freedom House, Christopher Walker, said from New York:

"Russia's margin for error in its news sector is very thin," said Walker. "There are not many voices that are able to cover meaningful issues, politically consequential issues on a regular basis. So to the extent that Novaya Gazeta is itself in jeopardy, that is deeply troubling."

Independent journalism in the country will come under more pressure because during the next 18 months, Russia will hold parliamentary and presidential elections. Historically, the Kremlin tightens media and societal controls before elections.