August 5, 2021

Russia assaulting independent media

For Alexander Gubsky, the period looks like a sad déjà-vu. In 1998, on the eve of the terrible financial crash that was to shake Russia, this journalist was one of the founders of Knowledge, a unique economic daily, supported both by the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. In 2020, a lifetime’s work collapses. Knowledge, so proud of his independence, is bought by two businessmen linked to power.

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“This operation was 100% political, recalls Alexander Gubsky. The Kremlin doesn’t necessarily want direct control over every media outlet, but the idea that some of them are getting out of hand is unbearable. “ Appointment of a new editor-in-chief, first censored articles, disappearance of sensitive political articles … the journalist’s suspicions are confirmed. And then there are the previous ones RBK and Kommersant, the two other economic dailies, which experienced the same mishap some time earlier.

Mr. Gubsky and the majority of his troops leave the ship to found VTimes, an economic information site that quickly stands out for its reliability, particularly in the treatment of new technologies and ecological transition. The site does not refrain from tackling political subjects, prudently placed in a “society” section. Success is emerging, still modest – 1.5 million page views per month and a few tens of thousands of followers, but we are talking about the Russian elite. According to the plans of its designers, VTimes was to become profitable in three years. He will not have the opportunity.

Infamous label

At 52 years old, Alexander Gubsky sees for the second time the collapse of a project which he carried at arm’s length: on June 3, the site announced its closure, effective on the 12th. The reason: the ranking of the media as “Foreign agent” by the authorities, in May, under a 2018 law. The effects are immediate: VTimes becomes toxic, sources and advertisers flee. “For everyone, this vocable is equivalent to that ofenemy of the people in Stalin’s time ”, assure M. Gubsky.

Classified as “foreign agent”, “VTimes” becomes toxic, sources and advertisers flee

Another point put forward by the editor-in-chief, the safety of his teams: there is no guarantee that criminal proceedings will not be brought against them in the future. Until it closes, VTimes has complied with regulations, which require displaying the infamous label on every post (including on Twitter, where the ad occupies… 221 characters). However, Alexander Gubsky refutes the idea that his media, financed by Russian investors, is a “foreign agent”. According to him, justice put forward as the only argument that his domain name had been bought from the Netherlands.

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