Bloomberg News

Lebedev Takes on Russian State TV Stations With Web Channel

June 21, 2012

Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev will add an online television station with an editorial focus on uncovering corruption to his investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta to take on state broadcasters.

“My dream is actually to one day oust the Russian state- controlled channels from ruling the minds of the Russians and replacing them,” Lebedev said yesterday in an interview in Bloomberg’s London offices.

Russian authorities have increased pressure on Lebedev’s media operations as President Vladimir Putin tackles the biggest protests of his 12-year rule. The channel may become operational in October this year, costing between $6 million to $10 million, and will use staff and offices from Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper Lebedev co-owns with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

“The content is sort of like what we’re already doing but in a different way, and hopefully having more information and more interesting people and making it a centerpiece of all of this activity,” Lebedev said.

Tens of thousands of Russians protested June 12 in Moscow against Putin’s return to the presidency after four years as prime minister, rekindling the biggest demonstrations of the past decade that prompted the government to crack down with increased fines and searches of opposition leaders’ homes.

Russia’s chief investigator Alexander Bastrykin threatened the life of the deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, according to an open letter published by the newspaper on June 13. The head of the Russian Investigative Committee made the threat in person after ordering the deputy editor, Sergei Sokolov, to be taken to a forest outside Moscow on June 4, according to the letter.

Massacre Investigation

In an interview published on June 14 in Moscow-based newspaper Izvestia, Bastrykin said he confronted the journalist and had an “emotional conversation” even as he denied taking him to a wood to threaten his life. Novaya Gazeta said Bastrykin was responding to an article in the newspaper that criticized him over the trial of suspects for a massacre of 12 people in the southern Krasnodar region in 2010.

During the investigation of the mass murders committed in Kushchevskaya, about 1,150 kilometers (719 miles) south of Moscow, the government examined allegations that local officials aided a group of criminals that terrorized the region since the late 1990s.

Five reporters for Novaya Gazeta have been killed since Putin came to power in 2000, including Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot in the head in her Moscow apartment building on Putin’s birthday in 2006. Politkovskaya’s work alleged corruption under the Russian leader and abuses by security forces in the mainly Muslim region of Chechnya.

The new television station would need to reach more than 15 million people to be competitive with state-controlled channels such NTV and Channel One and the operation could be further expanded into an international platform for investigative journalism to help combat corruption, Lebedev said. The billionaire also owns the London Evening Standard newspaper and the Independent in the U.K.

Lebedev is a former lawmaker in Russia’s lower house of parliament and a KGB officer who worked at the Soviet Embassy in London during the Cold War. His holdings include a stake in Russia’s flagship airline OAO Aeroflot and in banking, construction, property, agriculture and media companies.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Browning in London at jbrowning9@bloomberg.net; Lyubov Pronina in Moscow at lpronina@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kenneth Wong at kwong11@bloomberg.net


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