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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Independent Press Voice

Vitaly Tretyakov was about to start an interview when he remembered something. "Just a minute", he said. "I have to return a phone call to the president's press office".


He knew what the message was about: Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the paper of which he is editor in chief, had just published a copy of the press review that Boris Yeltsin is supposedly given every day. Having obtained the document from undisclosed sources, Tretyakov had decided to publish it when he saw that it was not simply a listing of the main articles, but a commentary criticizing his paper's editorial view.


He had published the document in full, adding only a short comment at the bottom: "If Boris Yeltsin is informed in this 'truthful' way about everything else that happens in this country and around the world, then how does he manage to rule? "


Any editor who wanted to keep his job would have been crazy to do this just a few years ago. But Tretyakov was not worried. He made the call, said that he stood by his sources, and hung up. End of story.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta, or The Independent Newspaper, was a sensation when it first appeared about two years ago. After 70 years of state and Communist Party propaganda, here was the first newspaper that declared itself politically free.


With a free press slowly emerging in Russia, it was and is a sign of the times. Tretyakov, 40, had left his job as an editor at Moscow News, to form Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Its first issue appeared in December 1990 with the front-page headline, "What do we know about the most powerful people in our country? Almost nothing".


Tretyakov had a specific concept: a newspaper aimed at the educated reader that would be financially and politically independent. It would be sold principally in Moscow with a limited circulation.


At the time, both political and financial independence were essentially unknown. and in two years, neither has been easy to achieve.


Tretyakov has been faithful to his promise to reflect as many colors as possible of the Russian political kaleidoscope. The paper's reputation is that of a liberal publication supportive of Yeltsin's reforms. But he has printed pieces by former Russian Communist Party leader Ivan Polozkov and the ultra-rightist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky.


But Tretyakov fights an uphill battle with the tradition of Soviet journalism, which tends to be light on facts and heavy on opinion. Most of Russia's newspapers, until recently official organs of the Communist Party, remain political weapons -- Moscow News on the liberal side, for example, opposite the nationalist newspaper Den.


When he started the paper, Tretyakov promised his staff they could write what they wanted. He has revised his stance now. He wants his newspaper to meet Western standards. He refuses late copy. He wants accuracy and facts.


He acknowledges that this has made him unpopular with some reporters -- so much so that some have left to form their own paper. But he refuses to compromise. "I don't want journal to limit me", he said firmly.


Complete financial independence also eludes Nezavisimaya Gazeta, but not for reasons of its own. Printing and distribution remain almost completely under state control, and most newspapers are dependent on government subsidies to keep pace with inflation.


Finincial dependence means political dependence, says Tretyakov, who is wary of government statements to the contrary.


"It was this way before the revolution and after the revolution', ' he said. "In the Russian empire, the center, the capital, has always controlled everything".


Convinced that Yeltsin's own Federal Information Center will do little to foster a truly independent press, he has formed his own analogous organization, the Free Press Foundation, whose board of directors include such unlikely partners as former President Mikhail Gorbachev and former Acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar.


Tretyakov says that his foundation will offer realistic alternatives to state funding. He plans to set up an independent publishing house and funding for publications that are in danger of going under.


Again, he faces an uphill battle. But he says it is something he must do. "The best newspapers have not disappeared", he said, "but they could".