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Finnish Sanoma sells stake in independent Russian daily

April 30, 2015

Finnish media company Sanoma said Thursday it had sold its stake in top Russian media titles, including the respected and critical daily Vedomosti, to a Russian entrepreneur.

Sanoma’s 33.3 percent stake in Vedomosti, as well as a portfolio of glossy magazine titles including the Russian-language version of National Geographic, and the English-language newspaper The Moscow Times, was sold to two firms, Ivania Ltd and Moscow Times LLC, Sanoma said.

They are fully owned by former journalist and media executive Damian Kudryavtsev, according to Vedomosti.

Sanoma expects the “net effect of the deal” to be “around eight million euros,” it said in a statement, without elaborating.

Chief executive Harri-Pekka Kaukonen said he was confident the publications were “in good hands” and Sanoma would now focus on its “core markets.”

Vedomosti is a daily paper focused on business and industry news whose editorial section has become an increasingly vital platform for dissenting voices and debate on political life in Russia. It says it has a print run of 75,000.

Kudryavtsev is a long-time media entrepreneur and consultant who ran several Internet media projects in Israel and Russia.

For several years he was chief executive of the Kommersant publishing house, which publishes the Kommersant daily — Russia’s top business daily that was especially influential during the 1990s.

He was reportedly a friend of deceased oligarch and power broker Boris Berezovsky who owned the paper at the time.

He quit in December 2011 however, after the editor of Kommersant Vlast magazine was sacked by new owner Alisher Usmanov over critical coverage of the parliamentary elections in Russia.

In a comment to Vedomosti, Kudryavtsev said he will keep the current model. “I don’t see the point in changing anything right this second,” he said.

Vedomosti, which often publishes reporting and analysis critical of the Kremlin, has been jointly owned by Sanoma, Dow Jones and Financial Times, and is printed on pink newspaper like the British broadsheet.

A former founding editor of Vedomosti, Leonid Bershidsky, criticised the deal as lacking transparency and done in the interest of a third, unnamed, party.

“Lack of clarity about the source of the money destroys (Vedomosti’s) business-model” which has been based on meticulous impartiality to any business interests, he wrote on Facebook.

Reports in recent days suggested that Kudryavtsev is negotiating with the two other foreign owners and plans to buy the entire paper.

Dow Jones and Financial Times issued separate but identical comments by email Thursday saying they “continue to review the implications of recent changes to Russian legislation limiting foreign ownership of media organisations.”

A Russian law passed last September caps foreign media ownership, so the paper must bring total foreign stakes to under 20 percent before February 2016.

Many observers at the time said the law specifically targets Vedomosti, but it would also affect many magazines and several entertainment television channels.

Another law passed in December requires foreign investors in print media who buy or sell stakes of over 25 percent to be granted special government permission.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.