Barring 'Miracle,' eXile Is 'Dead'

The eXile, Moscow's notorious English-language alternative biweekly, is shutting down after its investors became frightened by a government inspection and withdrew their funding, the newspaper's editors said.

"The paper is dead, unless a miracle happens," Mark Ames, The eXile's founder and editor, said by telephone.

The newspaper missed an issue this week after its financial backers "got scared away by the government focusing its attention on it," and now The eXile is very likely to cease publication all together, Ames said.

Ames declined to give details of the newspaper's finances, although he noted, "The situation sucks."

Underlining the direness of The eXile's finances, its web site announced an online fundraiser Wednesday in order to keep its server running.

The news of The eXile's apparent demise comes less than one week after its offices were visited by four inspectors from the Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage, who asked about the newspaper's relationship with writer and opposition leader Eduard Limonov, a Kremlin critic who writes a column for The eXile and appears on its masthead.

Although Ames described the inspectors as "civilized" and "polite," their promise to inspect The eXile for extremist content was apparently enough to scare off the newspaper's financial backers, Ames and co-editor Yasha Levine said.

"News of their visit had our investors fleeing instantly," Levine wrote in a posting on The eXile's blog.

The apparent shutdown comes just as the newspaper finished celebrating its 11th anniversary.

Founded in 1997, The eXile publishes Gonzo-style journalism on topics such as drugs, prostitution and Moscow nightlife side by side with political analysis, and frequently pushes — if not crosses — the limits of decency.

The newspaper first learned about the "unscheduled inspection" from the federal service last month, and inspectors met with Ames at The eXile's offices on June 5.

After asking about Limonov, the inspectors said they would check The eXile's compliance with Article 4 of the Law on Mass Media. The article bans media outlets from promoting extremism, pornography or narcotics.

The inspectors said someone had complained that The eXile "mocks and humiliates Russian traditions and history" and took three issues of the newspaper for analysis, Ames said.

Inspectors were due to reach their initial conclusions Wednesday, according to a letter received by The eXile last month, a copy of which was obtained by The Moscow Times.

Yevgeny Strelchik, a spokesman for the service, declined to comment about the inspection Wednesday. "This is an internal matter between us and the newspaper," he said.

One of the federal inspectors, Irina Pavlova, said Wednesday that the inspection was complete but declined to say what conclusions the inspectors had reached.

Asked for her personal impressions of The eXile, she simply said, "It's a normal newspaper."

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

Without the support of investors, however, it appears the newspaper has shut down already.

"This is sad," said Andrei Richter, head of the Moscow Media Law and Policy Institute, when told about the closure.

Richter expressed surprise that investors had pulled funding for the paper, saying the inspection was not that serious.

"There was nothing to be afraid of," he said. "Inspections by [the service] do not lead to prison sentences or serious fines. The maximum they can do is to issue a warning, and then after several months, to try and shut down the media outlet in court."

Peter Finn, the Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post, expressed regret at the newspaper's closure even though he had occasionally been the butt of its jokes.

"I'm very sorry to see it go," Finn said. "Sometimes they were on the money when they criticized us, and we paid attention to them. Sometimes it was fun to read. And sometimes it was sophomoric. But to see any newspaper shut down is a tragedy."

Others were less kind to the newspaper. "They never really called anyone to ask questions, and they made 90 percent of it up," said one U.S. citizen who was the subject of critical articles in The eXile, speaking on condition of anonymity because he did not want to be quoted saying negative things about the newspaper as it was being shut down.

"A lot of people were really crushed after The eXile wrote about them," he added.

In previous interviews, Ames has said he had no idea what motivated the government inspection.

"It's kind of a strange feeling to be the subject of a government audit of your articles," said Ames, who added that he had been busy taking calls from journalists since the story broke.

Still, Ames did not hesitate to declare the newspaper a martyr for freedom of speech, choosing his words in typically sacrilegious fashion.

"The eXile is the Jesus Christ of English-language publications," he said.