Publisher closes critical Russian magazine

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The Russian-language edition of Newsweek, one of Russia's few publications openly critical of the Kremlin, appeared on the stands for the last time on Monday after being shut by its German publisher.

The magazine had won respect for its high-ranking sources and ability to probe social and political stories with a frankness few other Russian publications dared to match, in an industry dominated by pro-government media.

But its German publisher Axel Springer Verlag and the magazine's editor emphasised that its closure was not due to political pressure.

"The reasons are purely economic. The magazine did not generate profit," its editor, Mikhail Fishman, told the Echo of Moscow radio station.

Axel Springer, which owns Germany's biggest daily, Bild, has been under licence since 2004 from Newsweek Inc of the United States to publish the Russian version.

The disappearance of Russian Newsweek further reduces an already thin field of opposition print media, with the weekly New Times, daily economic newspaper Vedomosti and tri-weekly Novaya Gazeta among the most prominent remaining.

"We are proud that Russian Newsweek has been prominent, award-winning and met the highest standards of journalistic work for six years," Axel Springer Verlag said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, we failed to put the magazine on a firm commercial footing that would give it a future," it said. The final edition of the magazine carried the usual mix of features including a report on the appointment of a new Moscow mayor.

The magazine boldly ignored unspoken taboos in Russia. In a provocative ad campaign last year, a hand holding puppet strings appeared next to the slogan "Trust in the courts is growing in Russia."

Another showed hands forming the shape of a jail window. "Our business is going over to a one-stop system," it said.

"Everyone knows, we understand," the ad concluded in a campaign that several billboard companies and the Moscow metro refused to run.

The magazine reported on rehearsals for "live" phone-ins to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and leaked confidential government documents. It boasted that it had "no censorship" or "banned topics or untouchable figures."

In March editor Fishman was targeted in a video, published on the website of a pro-Kremlin youth organisation, which apparently showed him snorting cocaine with a scantily clad young woman.

In a smear campaign, a second video apparently showed him handing a bribe to a traffic policeman.

The magazine's former publisher, Leonid Bershidsky, told the Echo of Moscow that Axel Springer Verlag's financial situation contributed to the closure, but that the magazine could have been saved.

"If the publishing house had worked correctly, it could have continued to support (the magazine)," he said.

Axel Springer Russia also publishes editions of Forbes and OK! magazines.

Meanwhile, the Novaya Gazeta warned on Monday that it faced closure after receiving a warning from a state watchdog which accused it of propagating "extremism" in an article on an ultra-nationalist group that included photographs of Nazi salutes.

By law, the authorities can close down a media outlet if it receives two such warnings in a year.

© 2010 AFP

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