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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gazprom Ax Falls on Itogi, Segodnya

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Three days after Gazprom-Media took over Vladimir Gusinsky's NTV, it came for his print media too. The Segodnya newspaper was suddenly closed and the entire team of the Itogi news magazine was ousted when they showed up for work Tuesday.

Both publications were part of the Sem Dnei publishing house, which is now controlled by Gazprom-Media and Sem Dnei president Dmitry Biryukov. Gusinsky has the remaining stake.

When Itogi journalists came to work Tuesday, they were not allowed through the doors to the editorial offices on Leningradskoye Shosse and instead were told to go through the next door to the publisher's offices, where they were presented with their resignation papers.

"It was clear something like this would happen any day," said military commentator Alexander Golts while journalists were waiting for editor Sergei Parkhomenko and Gusinsky's lawyer Alexander Berezin to negotiate the terms of their leaving with Sem Dnei officials.

Golts said that in mid-March, when Biryukov announced the decision to close Segodnya on May 1, Itogi journalists decided they would leave too. "But you agree that it is being done in a pretty arrogant form," he said of Biryukov's -action.

On Monday, just an hour and a half before press time, Segodnya journalists were notified that the issue would not be printed, said editor Mikhail Berger. He was fired Tuesday.

After about an hour of negotiations Tuesday, Parkhomenko and Berezin came out to announce that the entire Itogi staff — more than 70 people — was laid off because of "staff cuts." They said the publishers denied that a parallel team was working on the next issue of the magazine, a scenario Parkhomenko has been warning of for weeks.

"What is happening today can no longer be considered a threat to press freedom," Parkhomenko said during an impromptu press conference outside the publishers' doors. "What is happening today is establishment of a new system of the relationship between the authorities and the press, between politicians and journalists. It is no longer a threat, it is already a process."

Just hours later, Sem Dnei announced that part of the Segodnya team led by former deputy editor Kirill Dybsky — a team that Parkhomenko and his colleagues have referred to as strike breakers — will produce next Tuesday's issue of the Itogi magazine.

"There was no such team yesterday," Biryukov said in a telephone interview in the afternoon. "It appeared today at about 1 p.m."

Parkhomenko and Berger said that within weeks, they will resume their publications under a different publisher. Last month, Media-MOST said it will continue to fund Segodnya. Parkhomenko refused to specify Tuesday whether it will be Gusinsky who will be funding a new version of Itogi. In the meantime, journalists promised to publish Internet versions of their publications.

Media-MOST issued a statement describing Tuesday's events as a "natural development" of the authorities' course to destroy Gusinsky's media companies.

"We will find ways to continue the work at least until, and if, a strict dictatorship is established in Russia," the statement said.

Biryukov, who controls 25 percent of the publishing house, sided last month with Gazprom-Media, which owns 25 percent plus one share. He said Tuesday that he attempted to meet with the Itogi team Monday, but journalists refused to talk to him. The layoffs under the pretext of staff cuts was just a way of allowing for a two-month pause, during which journalists may decide whether they want to leave with Parkhomenko and Berger or return to Sem Dnei, Biryukov said. He said his personnel department was now talking to Itogi and Segodnya journalists about their options.

As far as Segodnya publication is concerned, Biryukov said that his pledge to publish the newspaper until May 1 was conditional on Berger's promise to buy out the title. When Berger failed to come up with the money, Biryukov said, he promised to give away the shares in the newspaper and its logo to the journalists. After Gazprom-Media "gave full backing" to this proposal, he decided to "expedite the process" and cease the publication Monday.

Parkhomenko said Tuesday that Biryukov's promise to hand out shares to the journalists was not followed by any concrete steps.

The title of Itogi, which has a licensing agreement with Newsweek to use the U.S. magazine's logo and material, is a more complicated matter.

Parkhomenko said Media-MOST and Gazprom-Media are negotiating the issue. But Biryukov said the negotiations broke down after Gusinsky demanded $5 million for both Segodnya and Itogi. "This could in no way correspond with their value," Biryukov said.

Segodnya loses about $3 million annually, he said. Itogi was profitable until Parkhomenko's statements about the dispute started to cause alarm among advertisers, which Biryukov said was the reason for the editor's sacking.

Biryukov said Sem Dnei has all rights to the title and dismissed Itogi journalists' accusations that he and Gazprom-Media, which long argued for their rights as shareholders, have now ignored the interests of Gusinsky — a shareholder controlling 50 percent minus one share of the publishing house.

"We have the majority," Biryukov said. "We cannot take into account the position [of Gusinsky], which is damaging to us."

It was not clear Tuesday what will happen to Newsweek's logo on Itogi's cover. "The reports we are hearing out of Moscow about the changes at Itogi are serious and disturbing," Newsweek spokesman Ken Weine said in a written statement Tuesday. "As of now Newsweek is suspending its relationship with Itogi and will reassess when the facts are more clear."

Biryukov said the licensing agreement with Newsweek has no expiration date and includes a high fine for a unilateral termination, but has no clause regarding the editorial team.

"If they [Newsweek] want to withdraw, we will discuss it," Biryukov said. "But I do not think that they will agree to pay such a large sum of money for breaking the contract unilaterally."

The last issue of Itogi prepared by Parkhomenko's team came out Tuesday with a Newsweek statement saying that Itogi's success "is due to the team of journalists led by Sergei Parkhomenko and [deputy editor] Masha Lipman." Any "serious changes" in editorial staff will give cause for "deep concern" and Newsweek will "do its best to help Itogi preserve their high quality and independence."

Parkhomenko promised to create a web site where his magazine will be found under the slogan "The real Itogi is us."

The conflict has not affected Sem Dnei's non-political publications: the glossy monthly Karavan Istory and the weekly illustrated Sem Dnei television guide.

Media-MOST still controls THT television and Ekho Moskvy radio. But if Gusinsky's holding fails to pay a Gazprom-guaranteed $262 million loan that comes due in July, they too will be controlled by Gazprom-Media.