Facebook Instigates Another Russian Media Scandal

Earlier today, the chief editor of Rambler-Afisha media, Yuri Saprykin, announced on Facebook [ru] that Gazeta.ru’s editors have removed Maria Tsybulskaya from the newspaper’s video-interviews project, because her March 1 edition [ru] with Saprykin included off-limits political questions about the criminal cases surrounding last May’s violent protest at Bolotnaia Square, and Vladimir Putin’s declining support in national polls. The video-interviews program, awkwardly titled “Objective Conversation” (Предметный разговор), was apparently the subject of some concern at this week’s meeting between the online newspaper’s editors and shareholders, who expressed dissatisfaction with Tsybulskaya’s work and proposed unspecified revisions to the project. (That meeting, of course, was prompted by now-former chief editor Mikhail Kotov’s departure from Gazeta.ru on Monday, March 4.)

According to Saprykin’s Facebook post, the owners’ and editors’ issue with Tsybulskaya was simple: she dared to broach the subjects of Bolotnaia-related repression and Putin’s dwindling ratings:

В вину Марии поставили то, что она спрашивала меня про Болотное дело и рейтинги Путина — а это якобы никому не интересно (в том числе мне), и надо разговаривать с гостями не о всякой демшизе, а о чем-то умном и хорошем.

They found fault with Maria for asking me about the Bolotnaia case and Putin’s ratings. This is apparently of interest to no one (including me), and one needs to discuss not the demshiza [the “democratic schizos”] with guests, but something intelligent and nice.

Maria Tsybulskaya, 20 August 2012, screen capture from YouTube.

Maria Tsybulskaya, 20 August 2012, screen capture from YouTube.

Minutes after Saprykin’s revelation, Tsybulskaya posted a comment [ru] confirming that “further planning of the program has been suspended,” noting that she will have a “final discussion” with Gazeta.ru’s acting executive director, Dmitri Sergeev, on Monday, March 11. An hour later, Tsybulskaya posted a longer Facebook update [ru], somewhat moderating her version of events. Regarding her March 11 appointment with Sergeev, what was a “final conversation” in her comment to Saprykin is now a “more detailed conversation.” Moreover, she clarifies that Gazeta.ru editors have not issued her any formal pink slip or even officially removed her from the “Objective Conversation” project. (Prior to her work in front of the camera, Tsybulskaya wrote for Gazeta.ru’s automotive news [ru] section.)

Tsybulskaya also writes that—after Saprykin’s post aroused such controversy—Sergeev called her to make clear that it was not his intention to close the project and that there had been some “miscommunication.” The meeting scheduled for next Monday, he claimed, would not be a nail in the coffin, but a fresh start.

In a Facebook post [ru] of his own, however, Sergeev signaled that his patience may have been overstretched by this public relations blowup. Roughly an hour after Tsybulskaya’s explanatory post, he wrote on his own Facebook account:

Мы хотели развить “Предметный разговор”, сделать его лицом Газеты.ру, но после такого поведения некоторых сотрудников даже не знаю, что и делать.

We wanted to develop “Objective Discussion,” and make it the face of Gazeta.ru, but after such behavior by certain staff members, I don’t even know what to do.

In comments [ru] to Lenta.ru, Sergeev rejected the idea that concerns about Tsybulskaya’s work are politically motivated, explaining that her questioning in the Saprykin interview was redundant, rather than provocative. “It makes absolutely no difference to me what she talks about on the show—it just has to be done correctly and professionally,” he stated. In other comments [ru] to Bolshoi Gorod, Sergeev promised certain “disciplinary sanctions” against Tsybulskaya for instigating such an uproar online and in the media, explaining that “it’s not possible to go to the press with something that just isn’t true.”

Analysts and netizens of the RuNet peanut gallery have naturally begun speculating about what Sergeev and the Gazeta.ru editorial board will do next. Some, like Roman Dobrokhotov [ru], believe that they will take the opportunity to back down and defuse the situation by not removing Tsybulskaya from the project. Others, like many of the commenters on Saprykin’s original Facebook post, remain convinced losing Mikhail Kotov guarantees the newspaper a gloomy future of rising censorship.

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