Centre Franco-Russe d’Intelligence Economique et Stratégique

14 mars 2007

Telenor Says Russian Partner Altimo Bought Negative Press Coverage in Ukraine

Created: 14.03.2007 10:41 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 10:41 MSK, 2 hours 59 minutes ago


Telenor, the Norwegian cellphone company, said on Tuesday, March 13, that its partner in Kyivstar and VimpelCom mobile ventures, Russian telecoms firm Altimo has paid journalists in Ukraine to publish negative articles about Telenor in the midst of a business dispute.

Altimo, denied the accusation in a statement Tuesday, saying that documents Telenor distributed to journalists to support the assertion were forgeries.

The documents, including a spreadsheet of payments to Ukrainian newspapers, were also filed as supporting evidence in an arbitration process in New York as part of a wider legal dispute between the Norwegian and Russian companies.

Telenor, the Nordic region’s biggest telecom company, and Altimo, a major player in the former Soviet Union, are struggling for control of two large assets — Kyivstar, Ukraine’s largest cellphone operator, and VimpelCom, Russia’s second-largest telecommunications company after MTS. Altimo is a subsidiary of the Alfa Group Consortium, controlled by the Russian businessman Mikhail Fridman.

The companies divided ownership of Kyivstar and VimpelCom in a 2004 partnership that has unraveled into lawsuits in Ukraine, Russia and the United States.

Telenor distributed on Tuesday what it said were internal Altimo planning documents that show the budgeting and execution of a publicity campaign that involved surreptitious payments to journalists.

Kjell-Morten Johnsen, Telenor’s vice president for Central and Eastern Europe, told The New York Times that the effort was intended to discredit Telenor in Ukraine.

Mr. Johnsen said Telenor obtained the documents from a person familiar with Altimo’s business who wished to remain anonymous. Mr. Johnsen said the documents were genuine.

One document distributed by Telenor, titled “Logical Rationale for the Information Campaign Under the Kyivstar Contract,” said that any attack on Telenor must be preceded by an effort to undermine the image of Norwegian business generally.

“In order to break the existing stereotype whereby Western business and, in particular, Norwegian business, always ’plays fair,’ an information wave” of negative publicity should be started, the document said.

It suggested planting articles saying that Telenor used double standards — obeying Western courts but disrespecting Ukrainian law. The document said such claims of disrespect would resonate with rising nationalism in Ukraine after the 2004 Orange Revolution.

A spreadsheet titled “Plan of an Information Campaign to Discredit the Image of Norway in Ukraine” suggested that Altimo planned to spend $74,950 from Jan. 29 to March 31, including $4,000 to plant a story saying Telenor had acquired Kyivstar under favorable terms by striking a deal with Leonid D. Kuchma, the unpopular former Ukrainian president.

Elsa Vidal, a specialist on former Soviet countries at Reporters Without Borders, a journalists’ group in Paris, said planted articles were commonplace in the region.

“Almost all companies pay money to newspapers to write about how good their products are,” rather than place advertising, she told The New York Times. “You can find the same articles in two newspapers sometimes.”

Planted articles are commonly found in relation to business disputes and during political campaigns, she said.

Posté par CFRIES à 11:41 - NTIC & Telecom - Permalien [#]