Russian-language papers change hands

  • 2002-05-02
  • Aleksei Gunter

The popular Russian-language newspapers the daily Estoniya and the weekly Vesti-Nedelya Plus are under new ownership this week after Merliner Holding OU bought their parent companies Valandar and Rukon-Infodaily.

Merliner is owned by Tallinn Deputy Mayor Vladimir Ivanov and his son Oleg, director of Tallinn's Bekker port.

Valandar and Rukon-Infodaily changed hands only last year when Gennadi Ever, politician and businessman, acquired majority stakes in both from the widow of Vitali Khaitov, who was gunned down in Tallinn in March 2001.

Announcing the deal on April 26, Merliner declined to reveal how much it had paid for the companies.

The acquisition was not linked to the approach of district elections in October or national elections next March, said Vladimir Ivanov, who is a key member of the Estonian United People's Party.

"The elections will definitely have effect on the papers, but they will never become the party newsletters of the Estonian United People's Party," said Ivanov.

Asked about possible changes in the papers' political leanings Ivanov added: "The papers' main goal will be maximizing the sharpness and objectivity of its reports and their efficiency. The newspapers will help the consolidation of all the positively thinking and open political forces of Estonia."

The two loss-making publications would not be turned around overnight, he predicted.

His assurances on the papers' ideological independence were echoed by Ernst Udras, chief executive of Merliner Holding and a fellow Estonian United People's Party member. The papers will be run on normal business principals, stated Udras in an April 26 article in Vesti-Nedelya Plus.

Changes are already underway with the appointment of Sergei Sergeyev, a former owner and editor of the competing Molodyozh Estonii, as Estoniya's editor in chief.

Boris Tuhh will continue as editor in chief of Vesti-Nedelya Plus.

Media analyst Vitali Belobrovtsev predicted that the Estonian United People's Party would be presented in a more favorable light in the two publications.

"The newspapers were obviously bought without an aim of making money because the new owner still cannot say anything clear on the future strategy of Estoniya and Vesti-Nedelya Plus," said Belobrovtsev.

Estoniya has an average daily circulation of 6,500 copies and Vesti-Nedelya Plus around 20,000 copies, according to the Estonian Newspaper Association.

Of their main competitors Molodyozh Estonii's circulation averaged 7,900 copies daily in March, and the weekly Den Za Dnyom's circulation averaged 14,600.