Ownership of Vogue, Other Russian Publications Under Fire

On the heels of a newly-signed law pertaining to Russian media, the foreign owners of an array of Russia-based magazines may have to sell off a majority of their stake in such publications. In October, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed into law amendments limiting foreign ownership of Russian media to 20 percent.

The law, which becomes active on January 1, 2016, is reportedly aimed at preventing overseas media organizations from spreading anti-Kremlin propaganda. Media giants, such as Condé Nast, which publishes Russian-language titles that include Vogue, Tatler, GQ Style, Allure, and Glamour, as well as a number of other companies, including American-owned Architectural Digest, will have to comply with the law no later than February 15, 2017, or face liquidation. And that's not all. According to another piece of legislation announced last month month, from December 6, 2014, foreign companies will have to seek government permission before buying a stake of 25 percent or more in Russian media companies.

According to BOF, Hearst Shkulev Media (which publishes the Russian editions of Elle and Marie Claire) and Sanoma Independent Media (Grazia, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan) are also either fully or partially foreign-owned and must now contemplate changing their ownership structure, or selling off significant proportions of their Russian assets.

While Condé Nast has not publicly commented on the recently passed legislation, which was introduced in the State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, this past September, others have. Miroslava Duma, for instance, the founder of culture website Buro 24/7, told BOF: “The overall change in the ownership structure might lead to consolidation of fashion and business media.” Buro 24/7 intends to comply with the legislation, but “our editorial policy is not vulnerable to any of the legislation or political issues."

Similarly, Aliona Doletskaya, editor-in-chief of Interview Magazine Russia and former editor-in-chief of Vogue Russia, told BOF that the law will "make publishers’ lives more difficult. It’s a nuisance. But we know countries that already function like that. And the law will give us two more years.”

Olga Mikhailovskay, former fashion director at Elle Russia, who has contributed to publications including Vogue Russia and Kommersant, a newspaper covering business and politics in the country, has doubts about how much the legislation will affect the content of fashion publications. She said: “I do not think the new legislation will have any impact on the content and distribution of fashion magazines. I cannot see any reason for that!”

Human Rights Watch has also issued a statement. According to Tanya Cooper, a Russia-based researcher for Human Rights Watch: “The adoption of this law underlines the Russian government’s determination to control the media and limit speech to those opinions it finds convenient. The government should immediately repeal the law before Russia’s once vibrant and diverse media market is devastated and freedom of expression is strangled.”

The media takeover comes after the Russian government has already closed down or bought out Russia’s independent television networks, and is the latest step in a long campaign to tighten the state’s hold on Russia’s media output.