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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Business of Letter-Writing

Last week it suddenly became fashionable to write open letters in defense of big business. I'm not exactly sure that they all had the intended effect, however.

On Wednesday, Komsomolskaya Pravda published a letter by Stas Namin, a legendary rocker in the 1970s who later became a prominent rock music producer. In his letter, which filled an entire page, Namin came out in support of Platon Lebedev, chairman of the board of Group Menatep, the holding company that owns 61 percent of Yukos. Namin's letter ran under the "Opinion" rubric. My first inclination was to check the masthead on the back page to see if the newspaper charges for publications in this rubric. It does not.

It's no secret, however, that in many newspapers a gray zone exists between editorial content and advertising. The papers make no attempt to hide that certain sections are actually advertising, but they don't exactly come out and announce this fact either. This gray zone is a sort of compromise between advertisers and editors. The advertisers are convinced that readers don't trust advertising but they do trust material produced by the editorial staff. They are therefore prepared to pay higher rates for "hidden advertisements." The editors, on the other hand, are trying to make a buck while maintaining their ethical standards.

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I spent so much time talking with colleagues, trying to determine whether or not KP's "Opinion" rubric belongs in this category, that I never got around to reading Namin's letter. Now I'll never know why the aging rocker is so fond of Yukos.

In its Friday issue, Izvestia and other newspapers ran an open letter from the heads of three business associations and three human rights organizations to President Vladimir Putin. This letter, clearly marked as advertising, I read several times from beginning to end. The authors proposed a new social contract under which the state defends democratic institutions and the results of privatization, while the business community combats corruption and assumes a range of social and ethical obligations.

The day before, Boris Berezovsky published a letter to the people in the Kommersant newspaper, which he owns. The occasion was the Yukos affair, as usual, but Berezovsky's main point concerned the defense of private property as it took shape in the first years of Russian independence. Citing poll results, Berezovsky maintained that some 80 percent of Russians, whom he called the "irresponsible part of society," sit around dreaming about slicing the pie all over again. Only the "smaller but more far-sighted part of the nation" can prevent this, he wrote.

Personally, I would love to be one of the "far-sighted" with something to protect, but alas, at the beginning of privatization I put all of my family's vouchers into Berezovsky's All-Russian Automobile Alliance, or AVVA. When the man who swindled me rallies me to the defense of other people's property, including his own, I'm not exactly inspired to take up arms.

And since Berezovsky's letter includes personal attacks on Putin, it's not hard to figure out where the next media "business dispute" will strike. A group of duped investors might just "spontaneously" come together to sue Berezovsky for their losses. They may demand, inter alia, that Berezovsky give up Kommersant publishing house as collateral. We will, of course, defend this respected newspaper. I just wish I could figure out whom it needs to be defended from most of all. And I suspect that when a serious business newspaper like Kommersant is obliged to print a provocative letter penned by its owner, the result is a sharp increase in those among its own staff supportive of a redistribution of property. At least in one particular case.

This is the kind of question that will have be dealt with all the time by the parties to the new social contract.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals (www.sreda-mag.ru)