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Publisher briefly pulls Russian edition of Forbes

The Russian subsidiary of Germany's Axel Springer AG media company pulled the December issue of Forbes magazine from circulation over a cover story on Yelena Baturina, the billionaire wife of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The publisher of the Russian edition of Forbes suspended the December issue of the magazine from circulation over a cover story on the billionaire wife of Moscow’s mayor.

The Russian subsidiary of German media company Axel Springer AG originally said in a statement the December issue would be barred from circulation, but then reversed its decision Friday, saying it will be published with a new cover and no other changes.

The Axel Springer Russian publishing house said “the principles of journalistic ethics were not observed” in connection with the story in the issue that was to have appeared on newsstands on Thursday.

A mock-up of the original cover, which was published Friday in the Kommersant daily, read: “Yelena Baturina, the Only Woman Billionaire in Russia — ’I Am Guaranteed Protection.”’ Axel Springer said that the quote misrepresented what Baturina actually told the magazine in an interview, which was: “Like any investor, the protection of my rights is guaranteed.”

“The part of the phrase put on the cover leads readers to confusion, since it was not pronounced by Ms. Baturina herself, and so it could not be used as a quote,” Axel Springer Russia said.

It said Friday the quote on the cover will be changed, but the article inside will not undergo any changes.

Baturina heads one of the biggest construction firms in Moscow, where her husband, Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, has presided over a huge building boom. Vedomosti reported that the Forbes story had calculated that in five years, Baturina’s company would bring in more than half its revenues from the leasing of real estate — suggesting that even without the mayor in office and the alleged preference her company enjoys in winning contracts, she will stand to earn huge profits in one of the highest-rent cities in the world.

Forbes said the 43-year-old Baturina was worth $2.3 billion, and put her in 335th place in this year’s billionaires list. Thirty-two other Russians also made the list.

Maxim Kashulinsky, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes, told Ekho Moskvy radio that he had changed the quote on the cover and that Baturina’s company, Inteko, had approved it. Then the company apparently got hold of the entire story “and began to threaten a lawsuit,” he said.

“I didn’t understand what their claims were; they simply didn’t want the story to come out,” he said.

Kashulinsky said he had tendered his resignation but it was not yet accepted.

Vedomosti reported that the New York-based Forbes Inc. had demanded that Axel Springer put out the issue.

Despite the reversal, the case has highlighted the pressure on independent press in Russia.

State-controlled media have come to dominate under President Vladimir Putin, while powerful business groups are quick to fight critical reporting through a pliant court system.

Paul Klebnikov, 41, the first editor of Forbes Russian version, was gunned down on a Moscow street in July 2004. Two men went on trial on charges of carrying out the killing on behalf of a Chechen separatist who was the subject of a critical book written by Klebnikov. Their acquittal by jury was overturned at the start of November and a new trial has been ordered.

Klebnikov’s killing highlighted the threat faced by journalists in Russia, which ranks as the most deadly country for journalists after Iraq and Algeria, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Shrinking media freedom in Russia was highlighted again in October by the killing of Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter who uncovered abuses against civilians in Chechnya.