Lenta.ru, one of Russia’s most prominent independent news outlets, has had their editor removed after they published an interview with the leader of Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist Right Sector, Dmytro Yarosh. Lenta was first warned by the Russian regulatory commission that they could face penalties, and then their editor was fired. Slon, another independent media outlet, has published this transcript of a leaked audio tape, in which the new editor, who has worked in pro-Kremlin media outlets, addresses the staff of Lenta.ru — Ed.
Yesterday one of the biggest Russian media scandals of recent years broke out, as the result of which the majority of journalists left the country’s largest online media outlet. Aleksandr Mamut, the majority shareholder of the “Afisha-Rambler-Soup” holding, suddenly and without explanation dismissed Galina Timchenko, the chief editor of the most popular and often quoted Russian news site. And he did that, bypassing the formal leadership of the holding (Mamut acted in the same way last September, when he fired the chief editor of “Gazeta.Ru” Svetlana Lolaeva). Alexei Goreslavsky, the former head of the pro-Kremlin website “Vzglyad.ru” was appointed the new editor-in-chief. After that happened, the news staff published on “Lenta” an appeal to their audience about the pressure on the editorial staff. Eventually, most of the journalists expressed the intention to resign. As of today, 39 “Lenta” employees submitted their letters of resignation. What prompted them was among other things a meeting with the new editor in chief Goreslavsky, who visited the new place of work Wednesday evening to meet with the staff.
“Slon” got hold of a video with a fragment of the meeting. We publish it with a text transcript of the conversation.
In the center of the frame, stands Goreslavsky leaning on the sill. On his left is the fired chief editor Timchenko. Goreslavsky says that he doesn’t really know the reasons for that reshuffle, and doesn’t know how what kind of editorial policy to pursue. He does not respond directly to any of the Lenta employees’ questions, constantly referring to the wishes of the shareholder that he is not aware of. Furthermore, Goreslavsky is unable to answer, whether it is in his powers to keep a special correspondent Ilya Azar (earlier Alexander Mamut, the owner of the holding, directed Timchenko to fire the journalist for his materials about Ukraine). Goreslavsky only timidly suggests that Timchenko dismissal could be caused by a warning issued by Roskomnadzor for a hyperlink in an interview with Dmitry Yarosh, the leader of Ukrainian radical nationalists of the “Right sector”.
Andrey Konyaev, the Science Editor:
– How do you view the operations of the editorial board?
– I have nothing to say, because I only found out about this two hours ago.
Svetlana Reuter special correspondent:
– But you’ve been thinking about something over those two hours?
– Unfortunately, not so fast. I’m an old, sick man.
– But you know, what is the chief editor’s work is about? Now you’ve been appointed for this job, what are your responsibilities now?
Alexander Polivanov, Head of the Economics Department:
– Why you need us is understandable. Because we make money for you. Now tell us, why do we need you?
– Good question. I do not know. I do not have an answer for you yet.
One of the employees:
– I’m sorry, Alexei, what’s the difference between your concept and the concept that Galina [Timchenko] had?
– Returning to the question about your employees. I will try to do the maximum that is in my power to make sure that you work and keep your positions.
– And what about Ilya Azar? This is an indicator. I was the one who hired him. Azar is the first person who was hired as a special correspondent, he is the person this unique department was created around, with the best special correspondents in the country.
Ivan Kolpakov, head of special correspondents department:
– You understand, that I have no moral right to continue working if my employees are being fired.
– Now, we, the special correspondent department, will not work without Azar. To be honest, we won’t work without Galya, either. Now they fire one of our bright, talented, controversial colleagues. And you put up with it. Are you prepared to keep him?
– I’m prepared to bring this question to the attention of the shareholders. If (Mamut) said that it was his firm demand…
Andrey Kozenko, special correspondent:
– Why in the first place a shareholder should intervene in this? Who is the media law intended for? What are we talking about here?
– You see, Alexei, what we have here is total schizophrenia. This is not the way we do things here. You come to us, like Vladimir Putin, and say, “But we have no troops in the Crimea! These are some other people! For us the most important thing is to preserve the team, but we will let Azar go! I will be forced to do what the owner tells me to.” It’s craziness, it’s some kind of sluggish schizophrenia! Alexei, explain why you came to us?
Reuter to Goreslavsky:
– And if you are told to jump from the second floor, will you jump?
– I’ve been in situations where you have to do it…
– I do not understand what’s the point having an editor-in-chief, if an investor can manage?
– Yes, I heard, in the case of Gazeta.Ru an investor did a good job.
– You wanted to somehow speak in a more constructive manner.
– That’s what I’m doing. Will Azar continue working here? You speak in some platitudes about something that the investor was not pleased with. Why won’t you tell us honestly, what is that the investor wants. Tell us, what did he find wrong with Galya?
One of the employees:
– Come on, tell us also, what he doesn’t like about Lenta.ru?
– He did not tell me. I’ll ask when I have a chance.
One of the employees:
– Look, this is the situation we have: we had everything confirmed, the traffic was growing, we were moving forward like Schumacher on his fifth season, one win after another…
– Wait! Schumacher is in a coma.
(Laughter. Goreslavsky is smiling.)
The employee continues:
– And at this moment, when Schumacher wins yet another season, they tell him: “Listen, Schumacher, take a hike. We’ll take Eddie Irvine (Schumacher’s Ferrari teammate in 1996-1999. – Slon), for example. We need a straight, honest answer, not just general phrases.
– Let’s go back to how it all started. Three hours ago, the shareholder calls me and says: “You have ten minutes to make a decision.”
– Look, Alexei, even I suspected that you could be appointed the chief editor. That means I am more informed than you are.
– Well, here’s my little message to you, okay? For me it was also quite a surprise. I do not have any kind of strategy, like, we do this and that, these people we don’t need for sure, this guy I want to see here, and this one I don’t. First of all, I have to somehow get to know people, and that’s what I’m trying to do…
Anton Klyuchkin, head of “Russia” department:
– Alexei, as we begin this process of getting to know each other, because before I’m fired it’s extremely important for me…
– I am ready to talk to everyone, to listen, to make notes, to communicate with everybody. I really want Lenta to continue.
One of the employees:
– Lenta.ru has a large safety margin, and it can still roll on for much longer. But we really don’t want to see it rolling downhill.
Lisa Surganova, editor of “Internet and Media”:
– Tell us, how are you going to build a strategy, if you don’t even know what the shareholder is dissatisfied with?
– You know, by the same method, that you are trying to apply to me now – that is by interviewing and questioning.
Pyotr Bologov, head of “Former USSR” division:
– Excuse me, but when will Mr. Mamut be ready to meet with you? And in fact, it would be great if he met with us. We can officially submit our collective request to meet him in person shortly?
– I think it’s our common interest. And above all, beneficial for him. I think he’s absolutely wants Lenta to continue.
Igor Belkin, producer from the new media department:
– And why the hell did he do it then?
– Look, you sound like an elementary school teacher. We totally understand what is happening in this country. And we are well aware how publications are shut down here. In my memory, it is the third or the second publication I’ve ever worked for, being shut down.
– Okay, let’s do this. Let’s ask ourselves this question: do we want the publication shut down? Or do we want it to work?
– Ideally, we want Galya Timchenko to stay. Since you’re asking what we really want. And we want everything to work as before.
One of the employees:
– If Galya Timchenko leaves, it would mean the shutdown of Lenta. These two things are essentially the same.
– And Alexei, what is the most frightening is these platitudes. Because more often than not what is hiding behind them is the intention to strangle everybody. We’ve heard that many times before. And wrote about such stories more than once.
– As I understand from your words, if Galya continued as the chief editor, Lenta would be shut down.
– I can only make assumptions based on… There was a warning by Roskomnadzor.
– Are you really trying to say that Galya was fired because of this warning?
– I’m not trying to say anything. I just want to say that it seems to me that such an event might not have escaped the shareholder’s attention… I’ll do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen again [another warning by Roskomnadzor]…
– Apart from the repeated references to Alexei (Mamut), I did not have any separate relations with the shareholder in general, and he never informed me about any possible consequences. Today I was fired with these words: “Galya, you are a great editor.” I believe this is an achievement. And I suggest we wrap it up at this point, tomorrow is another workday. Since today is my last day as the editor-in-chief, I will give you this order: please stop all this for today. Let’s go home and think about it. I am sorry, but in this story everybody makes their own choice, everybody chooses the work that fits them. All I can tell you is this: It was a great hunt.