Business Press and Ownership

Today there is an interesting op/ed in the Wall Street Journal concerning the attempt by LVMH to buy Les Echos, France’s leading business newspaper – a debate mirrored only by the panic in the United States over the possible takeover of Dow Jones by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. The WSJ editorial, written by a reporter from Les Echos, fears that the new ownership would pose a threat to the editorial independence of the newspaper and a general lack of credibility of business news in France. But couldn’t agreements for editorial independence be drafted, like with Murdoch and Dow Jones? Vincent de Feligonde writesEven if legal protections were drafted — a system that has yet to be implemented at any publication in France — it would be insufficient. The sheer size of LVMH requires business journalists to write about it almost daily. Since January, the group’s name alone has appeared 124 times in the pages of Les Echos; that doesn’t include the mention of myriad brands owned by LVMH, such as Dior, Louis Vuitton, Guerlain or Moët.” This problem of media ownership and editorial independence resonates most strongly in Russia, where instead of LVMH, we are dealing with the Kremlin and Gazprom’s ownership of the majority of media – the two subjects that reporters have to write about almost daily. We’re not only dealing with the tight grip on Channel One, RTR, and NTV – in recent years, Gazprom-Media has bought controlling stakes in an increasing number of business newspapers such as Izvestia, and last year, metals magnate and Putin ally Alisher Usmanov bought Kommersant – Russia’s most important business news source. Given the highly public concerns in the United States and France over the reliability of economic and company news under business ownership, do we really think we are getting an accurate story on Russia’s business environment?