The editor-in-chief of the Rīga daily newspaper Diena and about a dozen other journalists resigned Oct. 9 after the publisher revealed that the company’s new owner is a wealthy family of real estate investors and investment managers in Great Britain.
The decision to exit Diena came after Aleksandrs Tralmaks, who bought the newspaper this summer, revealed that the new investor behind the business is the Rowland family, led by David Rowland and his son Jonathan.
Among those who left the paper—some reportedly after having their belongings searched by security guards—were Anita Brauna, editor-in-chief; Nellija Ločmele, editor of Dienas mediji; and the American-born Pauls Raudseps, the paper’s editorial page editor and one of its founders. Other journalists who left include senior reporters Sanita Jemberga, Rita Ruduša, Baiba Rulle and Inga Spriņģe; Dace Smildziņa, editor of the newspaper’s Saturday supplement Sestdiena; political correspondent Ināra Egle; and lifestyle correspondent Anda Burve Rozīte, according to Cita Diena, a blog set up by the ex-staffers.
“These journalists are leaving Diena for two reasons,” according to the blog. “First of all, for 14 weeks Mr. Tralmaks was unable to publicly name the individuals or companies that financed the purchase of AS Diena, and his announcement this Friday about the involvement of the Rowland family from Great Britain has raised more questions than it answers. This lengthy uncertainty has done significant damage to Diena’s credibility.”
The blog also noted “serious differences regarding the future of the newspaper” between the journalists and the new owners. Ločmele, Brauna and Raudseps reportedly had put together a plan to buy the newspaper from AS Diena, but their offer was refused.
The newspaper’s editors, according to the blog, “believe that the owners’ planned business model, which includes a proposal to cut editorial expenses by over 50 percent, threatens the very existence of Diena as a quality newspaper.”
Tralmaks, in an interview with diena.lv, confirmed the differences between management and the journalists who left.
“In my opinion it is a very complex situation, in my opinion it is not a good situation, but that’s today’s result,” Tralmaks said.
Tralmaks added that he is hopeful that a number of journalists can be convinced to stay on with Diena and that the newspaper will continue operation.
However, a number of media observers expressed skepticism about the newspaper’s future independence. Sarmīte Ēlerte, the longtime editor of Diena who left the paper in 2008, told the LETA news agency that she foresees the publication will be different.
Established in 1990 with funding from the Latvian Supreme Council, Diena was meant as an alternative to the press controlled by the Communist Party. After Latvia regained independence, the newspaper was privatized and became the foundation for the joint stock company AS Diena, which eventually was acquired by Sweden’s Bonnier Business Press. Bonnier, which also owned the daily newspaper Dienas Bizness, announced July 3 that it had sold both entities to Luxembourg-based Nedela S.A., led by Tralmaks, former CEO of Diena.
Initial reports said Tralmaks was backed by Estonian investors, but he did not immediately reveal who ultimately was behind the deal. Although promising no major changes in the short term, Tralmaks said in a Bonnier press release that over time the new owners “will focus on accelerated development of the online capabilities of the two titles.”
The Oct. 9 announcement clarified that the Rowland family, through its control of Nedela S.A., has taken over full interest in both AS Diena and Dienas Bizness. AS Diena publishes Diena, the Web portal diena.lv and a number of regional newspapers.
The Friday morning, Oct. 9, edition of Diena was the last for Editor Anita Brauna and a dozen other journalists.
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