By Galina Chermenskaya
On the night of April 13-14, Good Friday to Easter Saturday, a momentous event took place in Russia, the true significance of which remains to be understood. Representatives of NTV’s principle shareholder Gazprom-Media arrived at the NTV offices and, proffering their warrants, replaced first the security guards and then the management of the television company. This assault effectively brought the long war against NTV to an end.
There is one qualification missing from that last sentence: Whose war was this? Who was doing battle with the independent television company, and why? In answer to this question, the media, politicians and the general public fall into two camps.
One theory has it that the war was merely a mundane squaring of accounts between an insolvent debtor–Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most holding, of which NTV was a part, together with the publishing house Sem Dnei, the radio station Ekho Moskvy and other media outlets–and its main creditor Gazprom, of which Gazprom-Media is a subsidiary.
The second theory is that this was an attack by the Kremlin on an independent, private television company with the gall to adopt an oppositionist stance towards the authorities. The debts owed by Media-Most and NTV to Gazprom were simply used as an excuse to stifle the recalcitrant company. Accordingly, the takeover of NTV means that freedom of speech in Russia is in serious danger.
To simplify these two versions of events, we may put the question like this: Was the NTV conflict a question of economics or politics? Before giving an answer, it is essential to understand the realities of life in Russia, which are fundamentally different from those in the West. It would seem that many in the West are not aware of (or do not want to acknowledge) this difference.
It is highly significant that, commenting on the NTV situation, some Western politicians put it down as a conflict between two economic entities which can and should be resolved in court. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, for example, said something to this effect after his meeting with President Putin in St. Petersburg.
These references to the courts sound so convincing to Westerners, but they are greeted very gloomily here in Russia. By virtue of the publicity surrounding it, the saga of NTV speaks much more eloquently than other cases: There is no independent legal system here, just as there are no economics not dependent on politics; they are knitted together like Siamese twins.
FROM THE FILES
NTV was born on October 10, 1993. Initially it belonged to the Most group, and for the first few months was broadcast on a St. Petersburg channel. Then a Yeltsin decree (November 23, 1993) granted it the evening slot on the fourth national channel. On November 11, 1996, again by virtue of a Yeltsin decree, NTV took control of the whole of Channel Four. In January 1997 Vladimir Gusinsky stood down as president of Most-Bank and took charge of the new Media-Most holding, incorporating all the media outlets controlled one way or another by the Most group.
GAZPROM HELPS OUT
In the spring of 1996 it became known that NTV was planning to launch five satellite channels (a company called NTV+ was subsequently formed to manage them). A considerable amount of money was required for this major project, and in June 1996 a wealthy partner was found: Gazprom, which acquired a 30-percent stake in NTV. Subsequently, Gazprom underwrote loans of US$262 million and US$211 million that Media-Most borrowed from Credit Suisse Financial Corporation and Credit Suisse First Boston.
What was it that prompted the gas giant–which originally had no serious media projects–to play Santa Claus to the private media holding? There is a widely held belief that the Kremlin was buying NTV’s loyalty with Gazprom money (the majority stake in Gazprom belongs to the state). This loyalty was particularly manifest during the 1996 presidential campaign, when every national television channel–both the state-owned channels and the private NTV–harmoniously supported Boris Yeltsin. This continued into 1997, when one of the country’s leading television critics Irina Petrovskaya wrote in Izvestia that “Kiselev [one of NTV’s “stars” and host of the news analysis program Itogi] is broadcasting not simply on behalf of the authorities, but as a fully fledged member of their team.”
However, the real reasons behind Gazprom’s favorable disposition towards Most remained an open secret, because for a long time neither side spoke publicly about the subtext to their cooperation. Eventually, in spring of this year, Gazprom-Media chief Alfred Kokh admitted in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda that Media-Most paid the state with its loyalty, in exchange for which the state paid out loans. I quote: “But the state didn’t hand over the money itself, it said: ‘Come on then, Gazprom, give Gusinsky a loan.’ Gazprom replied, ‘OK, but what do we get out of it?’ ‘Well, we won’t ask any questions about what’s going on in Gazprom.’ ‘OK, that’s a deal.'”
This is a costly admission: It transpires that the state-owned company has something to hide from the state, and buys off unwanted interest on the part of the law enforcement agencies by giving out loans as specified by the authorities.
Also this spring, Oleg Dobrodeyev–former general director of NTV and now chairman of the Russian State Television and Radio Company–recalled in Izvestia that from the start NTV was not just a Gusinsky company, but also a Kremlin company. NTV journalists did not only think up most of the Yeltsin campaign’s publicity stunts, but also penned Yeltsin’s radio broadcasts. Dobrodeyev said that the moral capital that NTV’s courageous reporters earned during the first Chechen campaign “was readily transformed, through involvement in the Kremlin’s doings, into real capital–these self-same never-ending loans from state-owned Gazprom.”
So if this is the case, what features more prominently in relations between Gazprom and Media-Most–economics or politics? And here lies the paradox which we shall come back to: By flirting with power and securing political loans, Gusinsky and his team scrupulously built up, brick by brick, a unique outfit–professionally the best television company in Russia.
A TEAM WORTH MORE THAN MONEY
Most viewers do not care whether their TV programs are made with private or public money. They are interested in the product–the news, movies, soap operas, serials. And in this respect NTV was a model channel–in many people’s view the best of the six Russian national TV channels. To a considerable extent this was due to Gusinsky, who many of his colleagues acknowledge is an extremely generous man.
State-of-the-art technology, massive budgets for programs and the highest salaries on Russian television all allowed NTV to put together a superb team of professionals.
From the start NTV’s piece de resistance was its news programs. Here its supremacy was indisputable. It could not be otherwise, for one of the founding fathers and the head of the news service was Oleg Dobrodeyev–later the general director of NTV–who is acclaimed by the TV community as an “information genius.” He put his money on young people unspoiled by Soviet propagandist journalism. And he nurtured a galaxy of highly trained, tough and tenacious reporters, who were the first to get to any story, who dug up exclusive information and who spoke precisely and eloquently. They came from one school–but they all possessed a lively individualism, and in time they developed into true stars.
While the main competitors–semi-state-owned ORT and state-owned RTR–were “channels for everyone,” NTV immediately positioned itself as the channel “for intelligent people.” Its first admirers were people whose educational, professional and material background was above average. In theory, NTV was to become a channel for the middle class, which was just beginning to emerge in Russia, but which to this day has still not managed to establish itself. And NTV’s stars corresponded to this: They were intelligent and educated, with a sense of irony. They showed fine movies–the cream of world cinema, which viewers in Soviet times could only dream of seeing. And it was only on NTV that television satire appeared, in the form of the malicious Kukly (“puppets”), where the rubber doubles of famous politicians, led by Yeltsin, played out sidesplitting sketches, usually based on classic works of literature or popular films, but always accurately targeting the topic of the day. The political prototypes of the puppets were initially shocked (acting Prosecutor General Ilyushenko even tried to ban the program), but then it dawned on them that to see one’s puppet on the screen carried a certain cachet; it was a sign of distinction–and what wouldn’t a politician endure for glory? Later, Kukly was complemented by an equally biting program, penned by the great satirical writer Viktor Shenderovich, entitled Itogo–a parody of the weekly news analysis programs.
When the NTV logo first appeared, everyone started guessing what the N stood for: Nezavisimoe (independent)? Nashe (our)? Negosudarstvennoe (nongovernmental)? NTV’s answer was: Choose any of those–they’re all correct. And in the early days of its existence, the company did indeed distance itself from the authorities, thus earning itself a great deal of respect from its educated audience. This was particularly manifest during the first Chechen war, which began in December 1994. At the time the authorities considered NTV politically unreliable and tried to deny its reporters access to where Russian troops were deployed. As often happens, in trying to insure themselves against exposure, the authorities achieved the opposite. NTV’s reporters were forced to go over to the Chechen side and show the war through Chechen eyes. The disastrous campaign was thus revealed on NTV’s screens in all its folly.
It is easy to criticize NTV today for working so hard for Yeltsin in the 1996 election. But we should not forget that the choice was between Yeltsin and the communists. Objectively, NTV opposed a communist comeback, and this only served to reinforce its authority. The mistake Gusinsky and the other heads of Media-Most made lay elsewhere. They realized too late how dangerous it was to flirt with power, and how difficult it would be to extricate themselves from this trap.
By the end of Yeltsin’s second term in office, NTV had become one of the principle critics of his regime and the scourge of the Kremlin “Family,” exposing corruption in the upper echelons of power and gaining ever more points in the eyes of its admirers. But the promissory notes issued by the authorities to NTV would eventually have to be redeemed…
NTV ON THE HOOK
While Yeltsin was president, Gusinsky’s debts did not worry his creditors. But things changed dramatically in 1999, when the end of Yeltsin’s presidency loomed and the question of his successor became acute. It was at this point that the paths of the Kremlin and Gusinsky’s media empire diverged once and for all. The Kremlin put its money on Putin, while Gusinsky backed former Prime Minister Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.
When Boris Yeltsin announced his retirement on December 31, 1999 and appointed Vladimir Putin as acting president, the outcome of the election was predetermined. This was clear to everyone–Gusinsky, of course, being no exception. Nevertheless, in the months remaining before the election the campaign waged by Media-Most and its heavy artillery–NTV–against Putin’s candidacy and policies became increasingly rabid. It looked like suicide, and many observers predicted at the time that retribution would be swift.
Why did Gusinsky go for broke, embarking on and pursuing this dangerous game, and effectively burning his boats? There are a number of theories about this. Gusinsky himself said in an interview that there came a point when he realized that some things were more important than money. The context of his remarks suggested that he had realized how dangerous Putin was for Russia, and tried to use his media outlets to open voters’ eyes to this. According to another theory doing the rounds in the press, at the start of the election campaign Gusinsky tried to do a deal with Putin just as he once had with Yeltsin. When he was rejected, he started attacking the Kremlin from the TV screens, trying blackmail to persuade the authorities to do the deal. Other observers believe that Gusinsky simply miscalculated, and backed the wrong horse, overestimating the influence of NTV and underestimating the might of his enemies–the Kremlin’s spin-doctors. Finally, there was a suggestion that Gusinsky had no desire to hang onto his business, but intended to sell off NTV, and was preparing the ground for the sale by giving NTV a firm reputation as an opposition channel, thus increasing its value.
WHO CONTROLS THE PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE?
Fascinating as the oligarch’s possible motives are, let us return to the facts. Immediately after Putin’s accession to the presidency, Media-Most–and Gusinsky personally–ran into a great deal of trouble.
On May 11 the Media-Most offices were ransacked, which observers immediately interpreted as an act of intimidation. It was claimed that the search had allegedly thrown up documents attesting to illegal activities on the part of Most’s security service, but there was no follow-up to this.
A month later, on June 13, the Gusinsky found himself behind bars accused of fraud. There is little point raking over the merits of this futile and long-dead case. It was astonishing for another reason: Initially, investigators from the Prosecutor General’s Office announced that there was a good legal case to answer, and promised that Gusinsky would be put away for between five and ten years. Then, three days later, just as unexpectedly as he had been arrested, the oligarch was released, and, on July 27, allowed to leave the country to join his family in Spain.
The same pattern was evident in both events. The question is why the law enforcement agencies left themselves so badly exposed, first creating a furor about the alleged crimes and then admitting that they were unable to prove these crimes and bring the case to court. Logic dictates that no one actually ever intended to catch any criminals, and that the law enforcers had simply been used like puppets–because the actual objectives of the two operations were far removed from the declared aims. According to Novaya Gazeta, in the first case operatives were given the task of finding, during the search, materials relating to dealings between Media-Most and Gazprom. The briefing document, which ended up in the hands of the newspaper’s editors, contains the following sentence: “Altogether RAO Gazprom spent US$597,795,278 on purchasing shares in the holding, ‘without gaining any influence over the organization’s activities.'” The qualifying phrase precisely indicates the true subtext to the special operation. Because the state-owned company had spent so much on the private television channel, the channel should deliver the editorial policy that the state needed. In order for Gazprom to understand its mission, it had to be entrapped by the documentary evidence.
The second story is even more telling. In mid-September a secret protocol came to light–Protocol V6–bearing the signatures of Gusinsky, Kokh and Press Minister Mikhail Lesin. The document implies that Gusinsky was granted his freedom in exchange for assigning his shares to Gazprom. Thus the question of the man’s guilt or innocence was decided not by the courts, but by blackmail. “Hand over your shares and get lost.” And the Prosecutor General’s Office would give this deal its blessing. But in that case its independence is a myth and talk of rule of law is a bluff. The prosecutor general has someone standing over him, whose directives are above the law. Who can this be? One might have conjectured that it was the omnipotent gas monopoly itself–except for the fact that the press minister’s signature was attached to the sacred document. It’s bad enough that he was immediately suspected of vested interests, because the advertising agency “Video International,” which is close to Lesin, is determined to secure a monopoly of the television market, and it views NTV as a tasty morsel. But if we also take into consideration the fact that Lesin in turn is very close to the Kremlin administration, then the conclusions speak for themselves, especially given that after getting himself involved in such a scandal, the minister was not dismissed, as might have been expected, but got off with a verbal reproof from the prime minister. True, this public dressing-down was shown on every television channel, but now we still see the minister in news reports confidently walking just behind the president.
It must be said that until June last year relations between Gazprom and Media-Most were quite amicable. As late as June 15 a Gazprom statement denied that it had any complaints against Gusinsky. Clouds began to gather in the heretofore clear skies when Putin, on a visit to Spain, commented on Gusinsky’s arrest–which happened at the same time as this visit–and reproached Gazprom about Media-Most’s debts: “A few days ago Gusinsky failed to repay another loan of US$200 million, and Gazprom once again paid up nonreturnable credit money for him. I don’t see why Gazprom should be spending money on this problem.” Gusinsky himself came under fire too, for, in Putin’s words, securing 1.3 billion dollars for his business and then “not giving anything back”. These two phrases of the president’s, spoken during an important state visit, were enough to realize that Gazprom needed to have a rethink. Russia’s political analysts interpreted Putin’s words to mean that he was irritated that Gusinsky was using state money to attack the Kremlin. Most First Deputy Chairman Andrei Tsimailo and the holding’s press office head Andrei Ostalsky swiftly rebutted the figures, claiming that the total value of the loans was several times less and that there were no problems in servicing them. Independent experts calculated that liabilities to that amount had not been accrued in the books of Media-Most and its related structures, while its market capitalization was estimated by Western foundations at US$ billion. But these clarifications counted for nothing. Gazprom fully understood the signal it had been given.
Thus began the bitter lawsuit over the debts. It passed through various stages, which there is no need to enumerate here. We shall merely dwell on a few key episodes. The main responsibility for extracting the debts–and effectively for taking over NTV–fell on the hurriedly reactivated Gazprom-Media. In May Alfred Kokh became its general director.
As soon as the deal agreed to in Protocol V6 was blown, Gazprom asked Prosecutor General Ustinov to investigate what Gazprom’s loans had been spent on and whether Media-Most’s assets had been diverted abroad. The Prosecutor General’s Office announced that it intended to indict Gusinsky of fraud: He allegedly received huge credits and loans against assets that effectively did not exist. Loans were even mentioned which had already been paid off in 1999. But then the parties reached an out-of-court settlement, and Kokh told Ustinov not to go to any more trouble, that they were withdrawing the case and that the claims had been resolved. Just a few days later Gazprom received payment of Media-Most’s debt of US$211 million dollars, along with 25-percent-plus-one share of all the companies that formed part of the holding.
One wonders why they needed the shares, if the assets “did not exist.” But the most remarkable thing is that for some reason the Prosecutor General’s Office also forgot about the question of assets being diverted. On the other hand, after a short hiatus, it started on a new tack: The loans received had not been spent for the purpose intended.
Let us clarify the situation: According to the settlement, Gazprom got 16 percent of NTV’s shares. Added to the 30 percent it already had, it now has a total of 46 percent. Another 19 percent of NTV’s shares were held as collateral against possible future liabilities of Media-Most–in other words, if Most was unable to repay the loan of US$262 million Gazprom had underwritten.
It was intended that both parties would add to the collateral shares a small percentage of their own shares to form a stake that would be sold on the foreign market through the medium of Deutsche Bank. “Nobody will have a controlling stake,” said Kokh. Gusinsky’s side insisted on this. And though Kokh made no secret of the fact that he had consulted Lesin, at this stage it might have appeared that the whole conflict was a purely economic one.
Things, however, are not always as they appear. Gazprom had not yet fully complied with the task it had been set. In an interview with Kommersant newspaper in February 2001 Gusinsky spoke from the heart, without worrying about the Kremlin, about all the problems facing Russia and about the problems of his own holding. This is his version of the extraordinary pliancy and controllability of Gazprom: “It is no secret that Vyakhirev was threatened. And naively, he thinks that if he is friendly with them they won’t throw him in prison. They’ll do that anyway, on principle–so he knows who’s boss.”
This, of course, is the version of an interested party–particularly as by this time Gusinsky had once again been indicted, this time on the two counts mentioned above. But in a curious way Gusinsky’s words echo the revelations made by Kokh in his interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda. “They began to shake Gazprom. The prosecutor’s office raised scandal after scandal with the board of directors: ‘How can that be? After all, we paid up! It turns out we’ve been paying Gusinsky not the state. Well, we’ll get our money back off him.’ And the answer was: ‘Go ahead, that’s your right.'”
Kokh was keen to persuade everyone that the political games were over and that Gazprom was now interested only in the debts. But of much greater significance for us is his admission that in the Most affair Gazprom acted under intense pressure from the state, which always has easy access to a trusty cudgel–the Prosecutor General’s Office.
GO FOR THE KILL!
When commenting on the NTV conflict, Kremlin supporters usually say: If the authorities had wanted to suppress freedom of speech, they would have shut down NTV long ago. But did they do that? NTV said whatever they liked: They were ruthlessly critical of Putin, the government, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the prosecutor general himself; they stirred up a scandal about the sunken Kursk submarine, exposed corrupt high-ranking officials and spoke out against human rights abuses in Chechnya. Is that not freedom of speech?
This argument would be convincing if the same freedom of expression reigned throughout the press as a whole. But one has only to peruse the Russian papers and watch the semi-official TV channels ORT and RTR to see that the media have understood only too well how dangerous confrontation with the authorities is in this day and age. Everything that has happened to NTV has been a salutary lesson for the press. Its freedom of thought began to evaporate with each passing day. Furthermore, many influential, high-circulation media outlets began joining in the baiting of NTV, just like a sick bird is finished off by its own flock. If they had just concentrated on Gusinsky’s financial failures, fair enough. But no, they hurled accusations about the antistate activities of NTV, which was “selling off the country” to the Americans. This steady indoctrination brought its rewards: Public opinion gradually started turning against NTV. The Kremlin-oriented media had effectively carried through the last phase in the operation to destroy NTV. Just the formalities remained.
On January 25 the bailiff sequestered 19 percent of NTV’s shares, which meant that they could not be used to vote. This was precisely the stake it had planned to sell to Western investors and then use the income to pay off the debts to Gazprom. This sequestration made it clear that Gazprom (or whoever was behind it) did not want their money back: They wanted the whole company. Gazprom immediately called an extraordinary meeting of NTV shareholders and proposed a new board of directors. The next day, one of NTV’s stars–newscaster Tat’yana Mitkova–was summoned to the prosecutor’s office to give evidence. It transpired that the office was interested in loans that NTV extended to its employees. An adviser to the prosecutor let slip to journalists, supposedly inadvertently, how big these loans were, thus effectively divulging confidential information about the investigation. But the move was carefully calculated. When pensions total US$30-$50 per month, and when a wage of US$200 per month is considered reasonable, reports of loans of US$70,000 or US$100,000 were like a red flag to a bull.
NTV had been backed into a corner. Its only remaining course of action was to appeal to the head of state. Did Putin not say in his inauguration speech that the president is answerable for everything that happens in the country? And Kokh told the press that in January 2001 Putin said to Kokh: The shares, debts and finances are the prerogative of Gazprom, but don’t touch the journalists.
So now these journalists were asking Putin for a meeting. It took place on January 29, and lasted four hours. NTV’s stars left the Kremlin looking crestfallen. It turned out that the president was fully briefed of all the details of the conflict, but did not acknowledge that there was a political side to it. The journalists told the president about the excesses of the prosecutor’s office, and were advised to appeal to the courts. This would be all well and good if the courts were any more independent than the Prosecutor General’s Office. But the president apparently did not even suspect this. His advisers had probably told him that rule of law had already been established in Russia.
The net was closing in. Only a Western investor could now save the channel from destruction. Specifically, Ted Turner and George Soros expressed an interest in NTV. But they were far from welcome in Gazprom. While publicly expressing an interest in potential partners, they were quickly preparing the ground for replacing the directors of the television company.
The extraordinary meeting of NTV shareholders took place on April 3, on exactly the same day as the president’s state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly. And while Putin was giving his speech, where he spoke of irreversible democratic transformations, NTV was being finished off in Gazprom’s offices. The most laughable aspect of all this was that the day before, NTV journalists had followed the president’s advice and lodged an appeal with the court to declare the shareholder meeting illegal–which the court duly did. But when NTV’s general director Yevgeny Kiselev appeared at the meeting brandishing the court ruling, it turned out that Gazprom had secured a contrary ruling that the meeting was lawful. It had been signed by the very same judge, literally hours after the first ruling.
It does not require much imagination to work out the reasons for this legal farce. But as a result, the shareholders meeting was deemed legitimate. And by a majority vote, Gazprom, with its 46 percent stake, and the American company Capital Research, with 4.5 percent, replaced the board of directors of NTV.
CHIP ‘N DALE TO THE RESCUE
Given that Gazprom claimed that all NTV’s problems stemmed from mismanagement, let’s take a look at whom it selected to make that management more efficient. The new general director of NTV is Boris Jordan, a U.S. citizen who was refused a Russian visa in 1996 and had his multiple entry visa rescinded in 1997 by the Russian Foreign Ministry, who put his name on a checklist. In New York, criminal proceedings were brought against him by investors of the Sputnik group he heads. Jordan was involved in buying-up 17 million vouchers, even though law intended the vouchers solely for Russian citizens. He was also involved in the saga of BP’s operations on the Russian market, which led to a sharp deterioration in relations between Russian and British business, and the court hearings are still going on today. In the opinion of the influential newspaper Moskovskie Novosti, the Russian people and the Russian government “will never know the provenance of the money Mr. Jordan brings into the market in the NTV case. And they will never know how much money he will divert from this market, where it will go or how he’ll do it.”
The biography of the new chairman of the board of NTV, Alfred Kokh, is no prettier: The former chairman of Goskomimushchestvo (the state property committee) and later deputy prime minister of Russia was one of the protagonists in the “writers’ scandal,” when senior officials received large sums of money for a book about privatization in Russia which never existed. After this, Mr. Kokh worked for the company Montes Auri, performing murky financial operations.
The question is, if Gazprom was so interested in NTV’s financial rehabilitation, why were people with such dubious reputations chosen as the saviors? Could no decent managers really be found from inside the powerful Gazprom? There is no answer.
As things turned out, the hurried attempt by servile media to brainwash the public did not completely work. Rallies in support of NTV on Pushkin Square and at the Ostankino television center in Moscow attracted huge crowds. As a sign of protest against the lawlessness, NTV ceased broadcasting all programs except for news for two days, and only resumed normal service when Press Minister Lesin threatened to remove the company’s license.
NTV fought as hard as it could: News broadcasts and the popular chat show Glas Naroda concentrated solely on how to save the company. While the channel’s viewing figures had fallen over the previous year (the effect both of the propaganda campaign and the fact that employees were tired of living under siege), they now soared. NTV’s supporters and detractors alike were glued to the screen waiting for the denouement. No one expected a happy ending for NTV.
It was obvious that further appeals to the courts or to Putin (this time from the head of NTV’s public council, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev) would be pointless. The finale came ten days later. After the nighttime takeover of NTV’s offices, there was a de facto shift of power within the company.
AFTER THE FIRE
A month on, it is possible to survey the landscape after the battle and calculate the losses. NTV is still on air, but these are essentially the ruins of a once flourishing company. The team, which was renowned for its unity, has disintegrated. Most of the channel’s stars have left NTV, together with their leader Yevgeny Kiselev, the former general director and presenter of the weekly news analysis program Itogi. And along with them, the best programs also disappeared. Yawning gaps have appeared in NTV’s scheduling, which it is difficult to fill with movies and repeats of old programs. The flagship news program has perceptibly paled.
The celebrated news anchor Tat’yana Mitkova has remained at NTV, and her career has taken a leap forward: The workforce elected her editor-in-chief of the channel. But even if she turns out to be a good leader, she will have not only to resurrect the news team, but also essentially recreate it from scratch.
Those who left NTV have found refuge at Boris Berezovsky’s TV-6. Sadly, they now find themselves in the role of usurpers: Berezovsky has preferred them to his old team, and all the channel’s managers, many of whom built it up from scratch, have been forced to hand in their resignation. The entire team that made the TV-6 news has also had to make way for the “best news team in the country.” But alas, having taken over the channel, even Kiselev’s team does not have enough staff in Moscow or the regions, and it has no correspondents abroad at all; unlike NTV, TV-6 was never a rich channel. Geared towards young people, and concentrating on entertainment, it has always made cheap programs–both literally and figuratively. In order to make it a strong channel, it requires huge investment, influential professionals and time. The proprietor, Berezovsky, has his own agenda: Having lost control of the biggest channel, ORT, last fall, he would very much like to recoup the political influence that television bestows.
Having been pushed away from the Kremlin trough, he now plans to turn TV-6 into an opposition channel. As yet, however, these are only words. It is difficult even to guess at the true intentions of this virtuoso political player. Even the most informed observers are declining to make any predictions yet.
When they arrived at NTV both Jordan and Kokh vowed that they would not change the channel’s editorial policy. In the first few weeks after the coup, the channel has striven with all its might to demonstrate that it is not changing course. But it is already clear that the intensity of its opposition is gradually decreasing. Recently, Kukly presented a parody of the French film Fantomas, which is extremely popular in Russia. The Kiselev puppet played the role of the journalist Fandor. Fandor the puppet admitted that he had invented Phantomas, the suppresser of free speech, and had persuaded everyone into believing that he existed. In the finale, the Putin puppet appeared on screen and explained to the political elite that Phantomas did not and could not exist.
We may therefore conclude that the whole saga of NTV described above never happened. It was only our imagination.
Galina Chermenskaya is the television critic for Literaturnaya Gazeta.