Campaign Frees Jailed Media Mogul, Promotes Press Freedoms

Vladmir Goussinsky's life story reads like a Hollywood screenplay: An independent entrepreneur battles the Kremlin in post-Soviet Russia and winds up imprisoned twice, only to be released after the intervention of an influential U.S. congressman. Goussinsky owned Media-Most, one of the only independent media conglomer-ates in Russia. His journalists' coverage of the Russian government was often unfavorable. But when Vladmir Putin took office, the media environment changed dramatically. Surprise "raids" began, and masked gunmen appeared at Media-Most's offices. Goussinsky was arrested in Moscow, and his company was taken over by state-owned Gazprom. Goussinsky recognized that his own freedom, and the freedom of the press in Russia, were at risk. He called on long-time associate Margery Kraus and her team at APCO Worldwide to help wage an international campaign to build support for media freedom. Kraus and Goussinsky had known each other since the 1980s when the predecessors to APCO and Media-Most shared a business partnership. Getting to the Government APCO's strategy was to focus not on Russia, but on powerful international figures who could put pressure on Russian leaders from the outside. "The goal was to make freedom of the press a high priority in U.S.-Russian relations so that every time President Clinton or President Bush visited Putin, they'd raise the question," says Don Bonker, EVP with APCO and a former Democratic congressman himself. Bonker's political experience and connections in Washington were the foundation for the campaign's political strategy. Without strong connections in Washington, building support for Goussinsky would have been virtually impossible. The APCO team worked with officials within the Clinton administration and with Congress, and later with the Bush transition team, to make the situation high-profile, linking the tale of Media-Most to the freedom of the press, as well as to human rights and religious freedoms (Goussinsky is Jewish, and much speculation arose as to religious as well as political motivations for the Kremlin's actions). APCO provided educational information via reports and informal discussions with Washington leaders about Goussinsky's story. The team assisted congressional committees in preparing resolutions and Congressional Record statements, worked to develop hearings and distributed a State Department report on human rights which highlighted Russia's crackdown on press freedom. Once Goussinsky was released after a brief stay in a Moscow prison, he headed to Spain, where he was once again arrested and held in Madrid for a month on a Russian extradition request. Bonker was able to persuade Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) to fly to Madrid. After a brief hearing, the Spanish courts ordered Goussinsky's release. APCO brought the media mogul to the United States for meetings with key politicians. The team leveraged Goussinsky's unique personality and his compelling story for the personal visits, and most officials embraced his cause. APCO also arranged "courtesy visits" for Goussinsky with figures like Donald Graham at The Washington Post. These visits got the major media players behind the newspapers interested, which prompted more attention from reporters and, even better, coverage in editorial sections, which was a powerful factor in swaying government officials. All's Fair ... The campaign succeeded in bringing Russian freedom of the press to the forefront of foreign relations at the time of Goussinsky's imprisonment. Not only did the U.S. government apply pressure to protect Goussinsky, but Congress produced more than 20 expressions of concern, and the State Department listed freedom of the press as a top priority in U.S.- Russian relations. But the tragedies of Sept. 11 have slowed the process of securing freedom of the press in Russia. America's need for European allies in the War on Terror has taken precedence. Goussinsky's personal crisis was successfully managed, but Bonker says ongoing efforts will be required in order to protect press freedoms in post-Soviet Russia from the Kremlin's agenda. (Contact: Don Bonker, 202/778-1000) Campaign Challenges Challenge: Mobilize U.S. government pressure strong enough to spring a client from prison (twice!). Outcome: The agency leveraged Don Bonker's knowledge for the government relations component of the campaign. The former congressman served as a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee during his time in office, and his network of colleagues and acquaintances on Capitol Hill and around the globe enabled the agency to move quickly and assertively to generate support of the cause. It also got the client's foot in the door when the agency was arranging meetings for Goussinsky with Washington power brokers. Challenge: Generating sustained attention for the issue of freedom of the press in Russia when foreign affairs are now dominated by the War on Terror and Iraqi weapons inspection. Outcome: APCO was able to rally tremendous support for Goussinsky and his cause before Sept. 11. However, since the terrorist attacks, maintaining the momentum has been a major challenge, and while efforts continue, they have taken a back burner to U.S. war efforts. (Contact: Don Bonker, 202/778-1000) APCO Worldwide received a PR NEWS Platinum PR Award Honorable Mention in the Crisis Communications category for this campaign.

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