Publish and Perish in Putin’s Russia?
A recent item in the Moscow Times reported that a judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit against the paper, its publisher and one of its reporters over a news report about oligarch billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. A lower court had ordered the newspaper to publish a retraction and pay a fine of 1,000 rubles after it ran an interview with another oligarch, Vladimir Potanin, in July of last year in which Potanin was quoted as stating that Prokhorov had “promised” to sell a stake in Norilsk Nickel to him and billionaire Alisher Usmanov and to buy his stake in Polyus Gold, “but he avoided doing this.” The MT states: “Prokhorov’s lawyer told the court in October that the phrase ‘promised but avoided doing this” paints Prokhorov as “an unreliable partner,’ damaging his reputation in business circles. Potanin’s lawyers have argued that the disputed phrase in the interview was in fact true because Prokhorov had proceeded to sell his stake in Norilsk Nickel to Oleg Deripaska’s RusAl in April in violation of the protocol.”
Regardless of whether Potanin’s remark was true or false, the fact is that he said it and the MT quoted it accurately. Nobody disputes this. How then is it possible for the MT to be sued? Is the MT supposed to verify the statements of people it interviews or hears speaking, and publish their remarks only if they are found to be true? Should it adopt that approach to reporting the insanely dishonest ravings of such persons as the “president” and “prime minister” of Russia, for instance? If it did, it could not repeat a single word that passes their lips after “good evening.”
The penalty being imposed here is nominal this time. What about next time? Isn’t it clear that this lawsuit is a threat to the MT, a warning from the Kremlin that it can put the tiny defenseless paper out of business any time it likes? Is it any wonder that, as LR publisher Kim Zigfeld has previously reported, the MT seems to be running scared?
We condemn the outrageous aggression of Vladimir Putin’s corrupt court system towards the Moscow Times. We urge the people of Russia, and the leaders of the Western democracies, to see that the little paper is one of the last canaries in the Russian mineshaft, and that it cannot survive over the long haul without serious protection. If the paper’s light is snuffed out, all those who need to know what is going on in neo-Soviet Russia will be the worse for it.