Thursday, April 13, 2006

East European media


Apr 12th 2006
From The Economist print edition

A million east Europeans in London are creating a thriving media market

Home thoughts, abroad

WHEN spies from MI6 were caught red-handed in Moscow earlier this year, Natasha Chouvaeva knew just the espionage expert to interview: Oleg Gordievsky. He is a former KGB officer who spied for Britain, escaped from the Soviet Union and now lives in well-guarded anonymity. For the media inside Russia, he's taboo. But unlike her counterparts in Russia, says Ms Chouvaeva, editor of the fortnightly Londonskiy Kurier [London Courier], “I don't have to worry about the Kremlin.”

Her paper, with a circulation of 12,000, is just one of a dozen thriving publications aimed at the east European diaspora in Britain. The latest arrival is a glossy English-language colour weekly, Fusion, with a circulation of 60,000. It is designed strictly for people from the eight post-communist states of the European Union. There are two other Russian weeklies plus a clutch of glossies focused on shopping and lifestyle; then there are six Polish publications (including a daily) and a radio station; and two Lithuanian papers. Their combined sales are over 120,000, and that is only a fraction of the market. Fusion's editor, Klara Smolova, reckons there are up to 1m east Europeans in London—nearly four times the government's official figure.

The most interesting material is the advertisements. As well as the predictable pages dealing with shared housing offered and sought in the grottier parts of London, and the nannies and builders who have proved the salvation of the British middle classes, there are ingenious lifestyle tweaks: for example, a way of using your mobile phone contract to get free calls home. An escort agency wanting new recruits stresses that it is “run by women”.

Ms Chouvaeva's paper apart, most of the publications show little interest in politics. Editorial content is a mixture of news from home and tips about how to survive in London. One Russian paper recently had a two-page spread on “Fake marriages, for and against”. There is a smattering of snide commentary about British social mores, but the overwhelming sense is of appreciation and awe at the opportunities offered.

Some still find the offerings pretty amateurish. At a Polish newsagent in west London, Bogusia Jarzebska, a graphic designer currently working as a cleaner, sniffs about the Polish papers' clunky layout, bad prose and inaccurate information. “One of them is published by a company that used to be a cleaning agency. I think it's the same people working there.”

That is why Fusion is so striking. Owned by the company that also publishes the Guardian, Britain's biggest liberal daily, it boasts both professional layout and sharply focused articles on survival (how to deal with double taxation) and fun (cheap days out). Its stablemate is TNT, published since 1983 for Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans in London. After only two months, Fusion's circulation is only 7,000 behind.

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