Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Russia and the IHT

Without a doubt, it is the IHT's hosting of a conference about luxury, in Moscow,the week before the elections the following Sunday 2nd December, 2007, which prompted me to start this blog.

Just to recall: pre- and post-elections the entire Russian national process was widely perceived to be unfair. What the IHT's very good coverage of the observer process (or rather failure thereof) explained was the central role that analysis of national media coverage of the elections and the campaigns plays in electoral observer missions.

Yet from Wednesday 27th November - Thursday 29th November, 2007, there was an international media brand of the prestige of the IHT, hosting in Moscow, a conference on 'Supreme Luxury'. Leaving aside how little supreme luxury most Russians live in, the question is this: how appropriate was it for the IHT to be running such a high-profile event, with the presence of their business editor, managing editor, publisher and even their executive editor, in association with many large Russian, pro-Kremlin companies, the week before such a contentious election?

Completely inappropriate. What was the executive editor of the IHT doing 'moderating' a panel discussion on the future of 'luxury' in Russia the week before the election? Key issues were: Where is the perceived luxury growth across Russia? Is St. Petersburg the next high-end destination? Or is the luxury playground of sea and ski the new center of attention?

Inappropriate because such a conference could naturally be played by Russian media, subliminally at least, as part of a sort of 'normalisation' of the elections the following Sunday. The international observers weren't present, but a news organisation of the stature of the IHT was.

That the conference should be on luxury of all issues (human rights, freedom of the press perhaps, if anything?) only compounded what was clearly a major error of judgement.

The reason behind this conference was of course money - or in this case Russian gas and oil dollars which is what funds luxury in Russia. Follow the money, and the IHT was willing to follow it all the way to Moscow the week before their national elections.

There was a time at the IHT when such an event would never have been allowed to take place in a country such as Russia, the week before an election.

Then there was a time when the commercial side of the church-state divide might have had the autonomy to do so, over-ruling undoubted objections from the executive editor had it been someone of Mike Getler's stature.

Now we arrive at a time when the conference, its theme, the high-profile brand presence of the IHT, all combined with the full editorial endorsement and even high-level participation of the newspaper's most senior editorial staff, is seen as perfectly acceptable behaviour on the part of the IHT.

And the word on the street is that the IHT's second most money making conference - Oil and Money - will be held not in London, but in Russia. The reason being given is that 'The Russians won't come to London' (that comment from one of the paper's most senior executives and not on the purely commercial side).

I bet they wouldn't. Some of them might have warrants served on them for murder.

When the paper you love is capable of such an enormous error of judgement, it's time to start blogging because I am yet to see any letters to the editor on this subject published in the newspaper.

1 comment:

Ian said...

I had an interesting chat this morning with a friend of mine who works at the International Herald Tribune, who, to put it bluntly, described my posting about the Supreme Luxury Conference in Moscow in the week before their national elections as a load of 'sanctimonious bollocks'.

My friend made a number of good points and I'll try and sum them up as best I can.

Firstly, the decision to hold the conference on Luxury (now in it's 7th year and one of the IHT's most profitable franchises) in Moscow, was made over a year ago, clearly at a time when the IHT had no idea that it would be the week before the elections. Had they known the date of the Russian elections it is unlikely they would have held the conference the week before the Sunday's vote.

As for elections themselves, we were in agreement that the IHT's coverage of them, and Russia in general, has been very good.

Secondly, like it or not, the fashion business is an industry, and an industry with a turnover of billions of dollars. Why would one not expect the IHT to cover the industry, and as for following the money, what business, in this case their conference business, would or should not?

The participation of IHT senior journalists was, in this context, completely legitimate, and, as somebody who had attended the conference, my friend reported that the IHT editors that moderated various panel discussions were there as journalists, asking some tough questions (for example on ethics) and were not there simply as fawning talking-heads.

Interestingly, the IHT's conference on fashion has become one of the biggest in the industry, and it's not as if its competitors - like the Financial Times - aren't doing the same: the FT have done 4 or 5, most recently in Italy, again with the participation of their journalists on panels, such as Michael Wolf and Lionel Barber.

I hope that's a fair summary of my friends' viewpoint, and I have to say, I can't argue with much of it.

However, was the timing of the conference unfortunate?

Yes, IMHO, it was.

Should they have rescheduled when they knew the election date?

That's a tough call to make when you're trying to run a profitable newspaper, and luckily it wasn't on my watch that that decision had to be made or not.

Yes, the joys of being a blogger: you can shoot your mouth off, and you don't have to take any real responsibility for the institution, business or issue you are blogging about.

I think I'm going to have to revisit this issue of the IHT and Luxury & the readership group known in the advertising world as High Net Worth Individuals. More to ponder on, especially given my recent posting of Mr. Frommer's view on luxury travel.