How to destroy a newspaper (13)
Autors: Pauls Raudseps
Publicēts: 2009. gada 3. decembris 08:59
Atslēgvārdi: , , , , .
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Why did the Bonniers help to undermine independent media in Latvia?

Everyone in Sweden knows how hard Latvia has been hit by the global economic crisis, and for months Swedes have been debating the role of their banks in exacerbating the property bubble in my country.

Less well known, but perhaps even more damaging in the long term, is the effect of the economic crisis on media independence and thus to democracy in Latvia. Unfortunately, a Swedish company, the Bonnier Group, has played a role in this as well.

For almost twenty years Diena, the Riga-based newspaper I used to work for, had a strong and productive relationship with the Bonnier media group. Our cooperation began in January 1991, when the Soviet special forces took over the main printing press here in Riga and prohibited the printing of pro-independence newspapers. The Bonnier-owned newspaper Expressen came to our aid. It printed thousands of copies with an editorial by Diena – in Latvian – on its front page and sent the copies to Riga so that our readers would know what was happening and what we thought about it. Ake Arsjo, the legendary editor in chief of Expressen, believed firmly in freedom of the press and in supporting newspapers that came under attack in our emerging democracy.

Over the next years the relationship with Expressen deepened as its management helped Diena with advice and training. In 1992, after Latvia had regained its independence, a company formed by Expressen and the employees of the newspaper purchased Diena and began developing the company, which over the years expanded to include its own printing press, a chain of regional newspapers, a newspaper distribution company and a magazine division.

This was not charity. Even before forming our partnership with the Bonnier media group, the management of Diena was firmly convinced that a newspaper could be editorially independent and play its role in safeguarding democracy only if it made a profit. This was the only way to protect ourselves from having to rely on the support of sponsors who would be interested in using the newspaper for their own political or business interests. From 1993 to 2007 the Diena Group always made a profit, and the president of the company Arvils Ašeradens was obviously respected by the Bonnier management. In 1997 he won the Bonnier Director of the Year award and up until recently he was a member of the team working on the Bonnier Group’s future strategy. The Bonniers never interfered in the editorial content of the newspaper, but made a great contribution to developing the business organization and culture of our company.

Because of this combination of principles and pragmatism, for many years Diena thrived and was widely respected both in Latvia and far beyond its borders. William Safire, the well-known columnist for the New York Times, called it “the most adamantly independent major new daily among the nations of post-Soviet Europe”; Edward Lucas of The Economist recently said it was the best newspaper in the Baltic States.

Then came the economic crisis. Diena, which followed a Western model and derived most of its income from advertising, was especially hard-hit by the sharp contraction of the Latvian economy, which sent newspaper advertising plunging by more than 50%. In 2008 the newspaper made a loss, and we could expect the same for 2009.

Clearly, expenditures had to be cut, and Diena’s management met every cost-cutting goal that was set by the company’s board. Over the last year staff were laid off and the remaining journalists and editors saw their salaries cut twice. This was not pleasant, but we accepted these cuts as necessary for the survival of the newspaper and its values of independent, quality journalism. A member of the board from Sweden even called Diena a model for others in its readiness and ability to reduce expenses in the face of a crisis.

Then, on 3 July, like a bolt out of the blue, we learned that the Bonnier Group had sold Diena to a company from Luxembourg called Nedela S.A. Founded by some Panamanians, it had been bought just a short time earlier by a young Latvian financial specialist Aleksandrs Tralmaks, who now became 100% owner of Diena and all its associated companies, as well as Dienas bizness, the Latvian sister paper of Dagens Industri.

It was immediately obvious that Mr. Tralmaks was not wealthy enough to make such a deal. He said that the necessary funds had been lent to him by an Estonian businessman living in Luxembourg named Kalle Norberg, who, in turn, claimed to have borrowed the money from other, unnamed sources.

Who financed the purchase of Diena? Who is the real owner of Latvia’s leading newspaper? These questions became the number one topic of discussion in Latvia and the rumors flew hot and fast. Diena has made many enemies among the rich and powerful people who control a significant percentage of Latvia’s politics and economy. It was an open secret that these so-called “oligarchs” were interested in buying Diena so that they could shut its mouth. Maybe they were behind this deal? Or maybe a resurgent Russia, which has never really accepted the independence of the Baltic States, and where Putin began the reestablishment of an authoritarian system by shutting down the independent media, might be interested in silencing one of Latvia’s most powerful pro-Western voices?

In view of the rampant speculations, which were doing significant damage to Diena’s reputation, it would have seemed logical for the new owners to dispel any suspicions as soon as possible. In fact, the opposite took place. The Bonniers said they knew who actually financed the deal, but refused to say, claiming the contract on the sale prohibited them from doing so. Mr. Tralmaks and Mr. Norberg were inexplicably evasive. On the day of the sale they publicly announced that they would reveal their financial backers in a few days. Then they moved the date back to the end of July. Then Mr. Tralmaks asked for an extension until the end of September. In private they named a number of people who supposedly were the real investors, for instance, the Estonian programmers who helped create Skype, but Diena’s journalists followed up every lead and none of them turned out to be true.

Many of us at Diena were extremely concerned by this situation, because we saw the damage it was doing to a newspaper that up to that point had embodied our values and had been one of Latvia’s most visible and respected institutions. Moreover, we saw how this was affecting our everyday work. How could we credibly demand openness and transparency from government officials and other businesses if the ownership of our own newspaper was so suspicious and opaque?

Yet we were willing to give Mr. Tralmaks and Mr. Norberg the time they said they needed to “get their papers in order” and register a new media fund in Luxembourg in which the real beneficial owners of Diena could be seen. A small group of us also investigated the possibility of finding an investor with a good reputation who might be willing to buy Diena if the new owners would be willing to sell it. This was all done in the hope that somehow we still might be able to save Diena as an independent, quality newspaper.

Unfortunately, it was all in vain. After asking for yet another extension of the deadline he had himself set, on 9 October Mr. Tralmaks declared that the real owners of Diena were a wealthy British family, the Rowlands, who had no previous experience in the media, but who owned a small boutique bank in Luxembourg that handles some of Mr. Norberg’s business.

Again, as throughout these three months, this announcement was not backed up by any proof. The world of private banking and off-shore investment funds is murky and can be used to hide the true beneficial owners of companies, but even by these standards Mr. Tralmaks’ announcement was scandalously lacking in any evidence to back it up. We were not shown any documents nor we were able to talk with any representatives of the Rowland family. And we were not the only ones – a week later the widely respected British magazine The Economist wrote about Diena’s sale and noted that the Rowland family “declines to say whether it is the ultimate beneficial owner” of Diena. In other words, despite all the waiting and the drama, we really had not moved any closer to discovering who is the real owner of Diena.

This was the final straw. Mr. Tralmaks had misled us before. How could we know that he was not doing so again? On 9 October and in the following days the editor in chief of the Diena newspaper group Nellija Ločmele, the editor in chief of Diena Anita Brauna, the entire staff of editorial writers, the newspaper’s leading investigative journalists and other editors and journalists – almost 20 people out of an editorial staff of 70 – handed in their resignations. This mass exodus was not the result of some kind of personal disagreement, as the head of the Bonnier Media group Mr. Jonas Bonnier implied in a recent interview on Swedish radio. It was the result of a conflict over the soul of the newspaper and it’s commitment to openness and transparency.

What the future holds for Diena cannot be known, but surely it is not a good sign that almost two months after Mr. Tralmaks claimed to have resolved any questions about the true owners, we are still unable to find any information either about the Baltic media investment fund he claimed to be creating in Luxembourg or any hard evidence about the true size and nature of the Rowland’s supposed involvement in this arrangement. Moreover, recent news reports indicate that Mr. Norberg is having problems with his creditors in Estonia.

As for the journalists who left, we are working to found a new publication that will continue to uphold the values of independent, quality journalism in Latvia. This will be especially important in the coming year as the economic situation continues to create social tensions and Latvia prepares for parliamentary elections in October 2010. We are acutely aware of our responsibility in these troubled times, when the economic crisis and pre-election political pressures threaten to do even further damage to the media environment in Latvia.

Because of all this, we cannot help but be disappointed in the way the Bonnier Media group left Latvia. Over the course of almost two decades we built a newspaper that both Latvia and the Bonniers could be proud of. Then came the crisis and they threw us in the trash.

Pauls Raudseps helped to found Diena in 1990. Before resigning in October, he was Diena’s editorial page editor.

This is a longer version of an article that was published in Swedish translation in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter on 3 December, 2009.

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(16 balsotāji )
Komentāri

..pilnībā nepiekrītu un Jums kā Cita Diena pārstāvjiem ir necerēta veiksme pārstāvēt sevi jaunā medija vidē, kura tikai pašlaik sāk veidoties un pirmie, kuri spēs sevi realizēt izmantojot visu brīvību ko internets sniedz tiks uzklausīti un esmu pārliecināts, ka arī atalgoti!!! Iesaku noskatīties šo raidijumu iz FORA.TV: http://fora.tv/2009/10/06/The_Digital_Era_Whats_Next (The Digital Era: What’s Next?)

Pilnīgi ticams šķiet liepnieka apgalvojums, ka rowlendi vienkārši par kapeikām ļauj izmantot savu vārdu oligarham, kurš nopirka dienu.
Ja es būtu lembergs es sen jau būtu nopircis visas avīzes, kuras vēl nav manas…

Vīrs kaut ko savaimanājis.
Avīzes piedzīvo problēmas visā pasaulē.
Arī jau pirms šiem notikumiem izrādās, ka Dienai nav nemaz tik labi gājis. Tas gan pārāk caurspīdīgi tai laikā nemaz nebija.
Tāpāt, ja apskatījām to Dienu no iekšpuses, tad izrādījās, ka jau sen pirms šī skandāla tur eksistēja un darbojās daudzas lietas, kas ir stingrā pretrunā ar tām vērtībām, kuras tik dedzīgi aizstāv.
Arī šajā rakstā redzam tikai kaut kādu jau dzirdētu gaudošanu par oligarhiem un Tralmaku.
Īsti gan nav skaidrs – kāpēc visās intervijās tad šis jaunais saimnieks pauž ļoti sakarīgas domas un patiesībā ļoti atšķiras no tā tēla, kuru Jūs te viņam būvējat.

Dienas pārņemšanas process BIJA pretrunā jebkādām pārmaiņu vadības atziņām, kā arī izrādījās acīmredzami neveiksmīgs no reputācijas viedokļa. To es saku kā šīs nozares speciālists un varu apstiprināt ar detalizētāku analīzi, ja tā kādam būs vajadzīga.
Ir iespējami vienīgi divi skaidrojumi tādiem notikumiem – vai nu stulbums, vai apzināta kaitniecība. Neviens no abiem variantiem neliecina par labu Tralmakam.

tie kas lasa zviedriski var izlasit bonnier oficialo atbildi taja pasa Dagens Nyheter 5. decembri. labs nonsenss!
izvirzu savu teoriju:
panamas-lichtensteinas-igaunijas-rowlandu-tralmaka-latvijas kedi patiesiba finanseja pats bonnier, lai pieklajiga veida izietu no ilgstosi zaudejumus nesosa biznesa ko neviens negribeja pirkt un kura nakotne butu jagaz ieksa vel miljoni. nu ta lai pieklajigi izskatitos un bonieram pasam nebutu veikals jasledz ciet, bet to varetu pec laika izdarit alexandrs. ko sakiet?

Reini — mani ļoti interesē tava detalizētā analīze. Varētu, lūdzu, par to informēt?

Bērni izaug, smilšu kaste mainās; spēles paliek. “Es neteikšu, kas paņēma tavu rotaļu lācīti, kamēr tu ēdi pusdienas” – “Nu lūdzu, pasaki”…

zz – pilnīgi iespējams. Bet es vairāk sliecos, ka ņemšanās ap īpašniekiem bija tādēļ, lai kolektīvs sadalītos kaut kādā daudz maz sakarīgā veidā. Vilks paēdis, kaza dzīva, citadiena.lv ir kā dumpinieku projekts, tāpēc interesants, kamēr Diena arī nav īsti ļaunie.. ar varu jau nevienu prom nedzina. Domāju, ka palikusī Diena vēlas būt pragmātisks mēdijs un tādā nav vietas “redakcionālajai brīvībai” un tēmām, par kurām arī rakstot, nekas daudz jau nemainās. Bet tā vispār, es neredzu nākotni ne dienai, ne citaidienai, atvainojiet..

Turpinot šo pārdrošo teoriju, hmm, bet kā būtu, ja Diena joprojām pieder Bonnieram? Tas izskaidrotu, kāpēc tā netika pārdota darbinieku pašu atrastajam investoram… bet neliels jampadracis, lai veiktu izmaiņas redakcijā un šādus tādus griezumus. Pierādījums tam varētu būt, ja pēc kāda laika ar paziņojumu, ka ekonomika ir atdzīvojusies un nu viss ir skaisti, Bonniers “atpērk” no Rowlendiem Dienu. Tikai nu jau pārstrukturizētu un tādu, kādu to vēlas redzēt īpašnieki.

Bet tā tikai tāda no pirksta izzīsta teorija… Bet visticamāk, viss patiešām ir tā, kā ir – nav nekāda slepenā oligarha, un Bonniers patiešām pārdeva dēļ ekonomiskiem apsvērumiem.

zz minētais raksts ENG tulkojumā: http://translate.google.com/translate?js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=1&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dn.se%2Fopinion%2Fdebatt%2Fsamarbetet-mellan-bonnier-och-diena-var-givande-1.1008151&sl=sv&tl=en

Swedes once again in history betrayed Latvians. Swedes can not be trusted, period.

to Wild… varetu but ta ka tu saki, bet ir paris lietas, kas kas liecina pret to. 1. es domaju, ka vini alexandru neizveletos ka prieksstavi tam visam; 2. ja ari butu izvelejusies, tad ka 100-gadigs mediju house noteikti nebutu pielavusi katastrofalas pr kludas – kalle, lux, panama, atliktie pazinojumi, utt; 3. diemzel alexa nappoleona sindroms bija parak speciks lai izaditos atgriezoties… es tomer domaju, ka istenojot savas ambicijas vins aizgaja par talu, ko sobrid ari dazos medijos pats atzist.

Mr. Raudseps, perhaps you should do a piece on Bonnier in the best traditions of investigative journalism. In particular, it would be of interest to know which international media cartels and monopolies the Bonnier group are in bed with.

13.

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