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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Izvestia Editor Concedes Defeat

Igor Golembiovsky, the beleaguered editor of the influential Izvestia daily, admitted Thursday that he has lost his months-long struggle for control of the paper.


Appearing tired and disappointed, Golembiovsky, 61, said at a press-conference that he would not take part in elections for a new chief editor on terms imposed by LUKOIL and Uneximbank, two investors who have taken control of the Izvestia board away from the paper's journalists.


"It is pointless," the outgoing editor said sadly. "They openly say that no matter how the vote will go, I will not be appointed anyhow." He is also sure that none of his key supporters will be picked by the board.


Despite assurance made during the takeover battle that journalists would retain editorial control, last week the new board controlled by LUKOIL and Uneximbank decided that electing an editor was largely the board's prerogative. The election is due July 18.


Golembiovsky said he would also relinquish his seat on the board, one of two seats on the seven-member board still held by journalists. His plans for the future are uncertain.


"I have been [with Izvestia] for 31 years. That is practically all of my life," said Golembiovsky. He was born in Georgia and started his journalistic career in 1958 working for a local newspaper, Young Stalinist. After a brief spell with the ideological department of the Central Committee of the Young Communist League in the 1960s, he has spent the rest of his life working for Izvestia. Journalists elected him editor during the August 1991 coup when they broke with the state and formed an independent paper.


While most newspapers in the West are owned by outside shareholders who appoint an editor, Golembiovsky has fought to keep journalists in charge of the paper, arguing that control by large corporations with ties to the government threatens press freedom.


"The mass media is supposed to protect society from the power of the authorities. In my view, there is a growing tendency for the mass media to defend the authorities from society," he said.


Yet Golembiovsky admitted that he had bungled a complicated takeover battle that has been raging at the paper. Golembiovsky explained how he had tried to keep control of the 51 percent of stock that had been distributed to workers during the privatization process, using the paper's "moderate" profits to buy stocks from the employees. But when the price of one share grew from 2 rubles to 5700, Golembiovsky's group had to admit defeat.


"Maybe we should have risked, taken a loan and attempted to buy stocks on our own, but that was quite a risky business, because profits were quite moderate," he said.


Golembiovsky said it was he who had brought in LUKOIL as a strategic investor, believing the oil company would give journalists a free hand.


But LUKOIL and Izvestia's editorial management fell out after the paper published a re-print from the French newspaper Le Monde alleging that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's personal wealth was $5 billion.


The article, which was based on flimsy evidence, was seen as a sign of Golembiovsky's partisan support for the liberal free-market wing of the government.


But Golembiovsky said he did not regret the decision and said his corporate masters would have found another pretext for a takeover. "It would have happened with some other publication," he said. "In order for the conflict not to have happened, we would have had to change much in the policy of the newspaper."