MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s state-controlled gas export monopoly Gazprom expanded its already considerable media interests on Tuesday by buying metals tycoon Vladimir Potanin’s Profmedia.
Through the deal the former Soviet gas ministry will add TV and radio stations, as well as cinemas, film production and distribution assets, to an empire that has commercial television channel NTV at its heart.
In a joint statement, Gazprom’s media arm and Interros, Potanin’s investment company, said the deal should be completed at the start of 2014 subject to regulatory approvals. Terms were not disclosed.
Gazprom bought NTV in 2000 from Vladimir Gusinsky, a media tycoon forced to leave Russia over the channel’s highly critical coverage of the Kremlin early in Vladimir Putin’s first term as president.
Despite criticism from investors that it was straying from its core business, the state gas export monopoly has continued to build up its media interests, keeping broadcast, online and print outlets in politically safe hands.
Under Gazprom’s ownership NTV quickly shed its previous reputation for independence. It ran a series of documentaries through the 2011-2012 election season that sought to discredit Putin’s political opponents.
Gazprom Media also owns satellite TV company NTV-Plus, while its radio stable features all-talk station Ekho Moskvy. It has interests in magazines, newspapers, film production, cinemas, advertising sales and online portals.
Putin’s former minister for press and mass communications, Mikhail Lesin, was recently appointed to run Gazprom Media. The company posted revenues of 52.3 billion roubles ($1.6 billion) in 2012, roughly one hundredth of Gazprom’s total sales.
Reporting by Douglas Busvine, editing by Jason Bush and Louise Heavens