Media Elites in Post-Soviet Russia and their Strategies for Success

in Russian Politics
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Media managers are key in the relations between, on the one side the authorities, to whom they enjoy privileged access, and, on the other side the newsroom, the functioning of which they define. Contrary to the popular view, held both in Russia and abroad, that the Kremlin controls the majority of the country’s media, we argue that media managers have a fair bit of agency and are players in their own rights, able to shape their audiences’ attitudes and modify individual as well as collective behavior. To be able to exert this power they must, however, tread a very fine line: they have to demonstrate adekvatnost’ (literally adequacy, but better translated as appropriateness, or ‘the right feel for the game’) and demand adekvatnost’ from their journalists and editors. Focusing on two dimensions – elite theory and the concept of adekvatnost’ – this article analyses the data gleaned from interviews with a range of media managers.

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    Konstantin Ernst born 1961is a prominent television and film producer and the director general of Channel One one of the biggest television channels in Russia. Ernst started to work at television in 1988 as an editor of Vzgliad one of the most popular television shows of the perestroika period. In 1995 he became chief producer of the Channel One after its founder Vlad List’ev was assassinated. Parallel to being director general of Channel One since 2001 Ernst has co-authored and produced popular television shows and films. Ernst was the author and creative director of the opening ceremonies of Eurovision in Moscow in 2009 and the Sochi Winter Olympic Games in 2014. He is considered a major and highly influential person in the Russian media market who enjoys close ties with the Kremlin.

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    Pavel Gusev born 1949is the owner and editor-in-chief of the daily Moskovskii Komsomolets. Gusev took his position in 1983 which makes him one of the longest-standing media managers in Russia today. He occupied several positions in the Central Committee of the Young Communists Movement. After the privatisation of the newspaper Gusev became its single shareholder. He also got control of press distribution networks such as kiosks and logistics companies which allowed him to set up a media empire. In 1991–92 he was briefly the minister of print and communication in the Moscow Mayor’s Office. Since then he has been the chair of the Moscow Journalist Union and in 2006 also became a member of the Russian Public Chamber. Despite being critical of the ruling party United Russia Gusev has long become an active Putin supporter.

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    Aram Gabrelianov born 1961is the head of the media holding Newsmedia which owns several tabloid newspapers and websites in Russia. Graduated from the faculty of journalism of the Moscow State University in the mid-1980s Gabrelianov moved to Ul’ianovsk where he started his first newspaper. He returned to Moscow in the mid-1990s where he opened the tabloid newspaper Zhizn’ (Life). The concept of Zhizn’ was largely borrowed from the British tabloid The Sun. Zhizn’ soon became the major Russian tabloid. In 2008 part of the shares of the holding was sold to the pro-Kremlin media holding National Media Group. In 2011 Gabrelianov became a managing editor of Izvestiia – one of Russia’s major daily newspapers. Gabrelianov’s media are known for its loyalist position to the Kremlin and often publish leaked and compromising publications about the Kremlin opponents.

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    Dmitrii Muratov born 1961is the editor-of-chief of the oppositional daily Novaia Gazeta. He began his journalistic career in Saratov a city on the Volga and in 1987 moved to Moscow where he joined the daily Komsomol’skaia Pravda. After a conflict with his editors he left Komsomol’skaia Pravda and took part in establishing a new daily the Novaia Ezhednevnaia Gazeta later renamed into Novaia Gazeta. He became its editor-in-chief in 1995. The newspaper has frequently published investigations about political machinations among the political leadership and the situation in the Northern Caucasus. Several of his journalists were murdered because of their professional activity most famously Anna Politkovskaia.

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    Anna Berezkina born 1989has been the director general of the free daily Metro from January 2014. She is a daughter of the billionaire and ceo of esn Media Holding Grigorii Berezkin.

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    Mikhail Zygar’ born 1981was from 2010 to 2015 editor-in-chief of the television channel TVRain (Dozhd’). He began his career at the daily Kommersant’ as a war correspondent covering conflicts in Uzbekistan Kyrgyzstan Iraq and Ukraine. In 2009 and 2010 he worked as departmental editor at Russian Newsweek. He is an author of several books about Russian politics.

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    Elizaveta Osetinskaia born 1977was since editor-in-chief at rbk Media Holding from 2013 to May 2016 In the 1990s she worked as a journalist at rbcSegodnia daily and the weekly Itogi. From 1999 onwards she worked at financial daily Vedomosti the editor-in-chief of which she became in 2005. From 2011 to 2013 she was head of Russian Forbes.

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    Irena Lesnevskaia born 1942worked in Soviet television from the 1960s onwards first as editor and then as assistant director. In 1991 together with her son she set up ren tv Russia’s first independent television production company becoming president in 1997. She was one of the co-founders of the Public Russian Television (later Channel One). In 2005 Yurii Koval’chuk Putin’s close oligarch and head of National Media Group bought her shares in ren tv consequently pushing her out of the media business. In 2006 she founded the weekly magazine The New Times – one of the few media outlets highly critical of the Russian political regime. She has been its editor-in-chief since its foundation until 2009.

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    Vladimir Borodin born 1975was from September 2004 to November 2005 editor-in-chief of the daily Izvestiia. He started his career in 1996 at Izvestiia as a journalist covering regional politics. In 1999 he became executive editor of Izvestiia. After publishing a special issue about the 2004 Beslan tragedy Izvesiia’s editor-in-chief Raf Shakirov was fired and replaced by Borodin. Borodin himself lost his job in November 2005 for publishing a critical report on the People’s Unity Day a major nation-building initiative of the Kremlin in the 2000s. From 2006 to 2010 Borodin worked as a senior manager in the media holding Promsviazmedia which owned several newspapers (TrudArgumenty i Fakty). He left media in 2010.

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    Leonid Bershidsky born 1971is the founder and former editor-in-chief of several magazines and news websites. At the beginning of the 1990s was a Moscow correspondent of The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Moscow Times. In 1999 he became editor-in-chief of a financial daily Vedomosti. In 2002–2003 Bershidsky did an mba in France. Upon return to Russia he became senior manager at Axel Springer Russia publishing house launching Russian Forbes and Russian Newsweek. From 2009 till 2011 he was editor-in-chief of the website Slon. In 2011 Bershidsky moved to Ukraine where he founded and managed several media outlets including the Ukrainian version of Forbes magazine. Since 2014 has lived in Germany writing for Bloomberg.

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    Galina Timchenko born 1962was from 2004 to 2014 editor-in-chief of the news website Lenta. She started her career at the Kommersant’ publishing house in 1997 and joined Lenta in 1999. In 2014 Lenta became the most popular news source on the Russian Internet and one of the most popular news sources in Europe. In 2013 amidst the violence in Ukraine 1.5 billion people visited the website which published critical articles about Russia’s involvement in the conflict. In March 2014 Aleksandr Mamut the owner of Lenta fired Timchenko. According to her this move was politically motivated. As a sign of protest the majority of her staff members left the company.

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