Whose Echo are you?
The fate of the Echo of Moscow radio station, the last independent media outlet in Vladimir Gusinsky's business empire, took a new turn this week when officials announced that Gazprom's 9.5 percent stake in the station will go to well-known economist Yevgeny Yasin.
Originally, the plan had been to sell the shares to the radio station's journalists who were ready to pay $1.5 million for the stake but a week ago, head of Gazprom-Media Alfred Kokh unexpectedly announced that the shares would go to Union of Right Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov.
At that time, Kokh's announcement aroused the ire of the Echo journalists, who said they didn't want their station to be an SPS mouthpiece.
Then there were procedural problems as a Duma deputy, Nemtsov doesn't have the right to be party to commercial transactions. Nemtsov has presidential hopes, and the dubious pleasure of owning shares in an out-of-favor radio station could have got in the way. This prospect didn't attract him, and he found a last-minute replacement candidate for the shares. Enter Yevgeny Yasin.
Yasin, known as one of the fathers of liberal reforms in Russia, is currently rector of the Higher School of Economics and a member of the SPS politburo. But unlike Nemtsov, Yasin is willing to give up his political party membership for Echo of Moscow's sake. The slippery issue of what the shares will cost is still behind the scenes at the moment, but Kokh has said that an acceptable arrangement will be found so that Yasin doesn't have to incur huge debts.
Meanwhile, a report in the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily said that a "Kiselyov and Co." outcome one in which most of Echo of Moscow journalists would leave the station and go to one of those owned by disgraced revolutionary Boris Berezovsky is still possible. Such a deal, according to the paper, could be arranged as a sale of the station for a nominal price to the journalists, making it look as if a "heroic" Berezovsky were saving media freedom by relinquishing one of his frequencies perhaps that of Nashe Radio to the journalists.
But people close to Echo of Moscow management say the main question is not so much what frequency any departing journalists would broadcast on but what money they'd use to stay on the air. The problem isn't one of just preserving independence from a majority shareholder, whether the state or some other organization. The problem is finding any investor who would give the money to keep the station running.
But all the people with money are too busy building good relations with the authorities to get involved in this affair, at least not publicly and on a large scale. And foreign investors, despite their fine words about freedom of speech, have been frightened off by everything that has gone on in the Gusinsky affair in the past few months. This could leave Berezovsky as the only option. So, in trying to escape the state vise around them, the Echo journalists could find themselves in an even tighter grip that of the godfather of dirty political journalism.
Whatever the case, the word now is that Echo of Moscow Chief Editor Alexei Venediktov will wait for the Genoa G-8 summit before making public the journalists' intentions.
An asteroid called Samaranch
Ambitious Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has once again demonstrated his love for grand gestures and his desire to see the Olympic torch come Moscow's way. The Moscow authorities organized a reception at City Hall on Tuesday to celebrate the birthday of Juan Antonio Samaranch, outgoing president of the International Olympic Committee.
Luzhkov made his speech an occasion to praise Samaranch to the skies and announced that the Moscow authorities had funded a mountaineering expedition in Tajikistan, which had conquered a 4,380-meter-high peak and named it Peak Samaranch. "This is our birthday present to you," Gazeta.ru quoted Luzhkov as saying.
Although it won't be Samaranch now in the IOC who decides whether or not to give Moscow the 2012 games, Luzhkov nevertheless made it clear that his gratitude would know no bounds. To thank whoever did help Moscow get the games, Luzhkov would probably be willing to fund a space expedition giving the helpful person's name not just to an icy mountain peak but an asteroid or planet.
(Ekaterina Larina is assistant editor of The Russia Journal.
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