Investigators Target eXile For Possible Violations

Federal authorities are scrutinizing the English-language tabloid The eXile to determine whether it has violated media laws, a step that could lead to the shutdown of the notorious biweekly.

Mark Ames, editor and founder of The eXile, was scheduled to meet Thursday with inspectors from the Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage, he said by telephone Wednesday.

Ames said he did not know why the service had taken a sudden interest in The eXile, which just celebrated its 11th anniversary.

"It could be one of the many people we've pissed off over the last months or years," said Ames, a U.S. citizen who launched the newspaper in 1997.

The eXile's staff received a letter from the service last week announcing an "unscheduled inspection" to check whether the newspaper had violated media laws or its license, Ames said.

A four-person commission must reach its conclusion by June 11, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Moscow Times.

Repeated calls to a phone number listed on the letter were not answered Wednesday, and a spokesman for the service did not answer repeated calls to his cell phone.

An official initially said the paper would have to provide Russian translations of all its back issues, Ames said.

Told it would be impossible to translate "zillions" of issues, the official said inspectors would meet with the editor instead and have him explain "different articles," Ames said.

Ames said he did not know which articles were of interest to the inspectors, but he suggested that one possibility were columns by Eduard Limonov, founder of the banned National Bolshevik Party and a vehement Kremlin foe.

He conceded that many other eXile editions could have riled the authorities.

The eXile, which publishes Gonzo-style journalism on topics such as drugs, prostitution and Moscow nightlife side-by-side with political analysis, has often pushed the limits of decency -- not to mention libel law.

Hockey star Pavel Bure won a 500,000 ruble lawsuit against the newspaper over a 2001 spoof article it published about his relationship with tennis player Anna Kournikova.

If inspectors uncover violations, they could hit The eXile with a warning. A second warning within the next year could result in the paper's license being revoked, effectively shutting it down.

Media outlets can receive warnings if they are found to have incited ethnic hatred or promoted the use of illegal drugs, said Svetlana Zemskova, a lawyer at the Glasnost Defense Foundation.

Other reasons are more technical, such as if a newspaper publishes political content while describing itself as an "entertainment" paper in its license application, said Zemskova, who is familiar with The eXile's situation.

Zemskova added that such inspections were rare and that authorities seem to be moving with unusual speed. "Such inspections do happen, but not in such a hurried, immediate way," she said.

Ames said he feared that this could mean the end of The eXile.

"I get the general sense that they have decided it's time to shut us down, that they're not going to tolerate us anymore," he said.