The State Duma yesterday passed a bill in first reading which would require any media company registered in Russia to be less than 50-percent owned by foreign companies or citizens. The document was drafted during the battle for control over NTV, the flagship channel of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most holding, and thus was apparently specifically aimed at preventing Gusinsky from selling off his NTV stake to CNN founder Ted Turner. Yet while NTV was subsequently taken over by Gazprom and Gusinsky’s plans to sell out his NTV stake to Turner apparently scuttled, the bill nonetheless moved forward in the Duma. In any case, there are other media which would be affected were it ultimately passed in something like its current form. These include Independent Media, the largely Dutch-owned publishing house which produces the English-language newspaper The Moscow Times, along with the Russian-language business newspaper Vedomosti (a joint venture of Independent Media, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal) and Russian-language versions of Playboy, Cosmopolitan and other magazines. The bill currently contains a clause giving it retroactive force, meaning that were it passed once and for all, foreign owners would be required to sell their shares to Russian companies within a year (Moscow Times, Vedomosti, April 27).
Independent Media’s director, Yelena Myasnikova, said today that the publishing house was “very disturbed” by the passage of the bill in first reading, saying that the measure “violates the rights of the owners of print media, limits freedom of speech in Russian and violates the constitution, and has a negative effect on the reputation of our country in the area of democratic rights and freedoms.” Myasnikova said she did not rule out that Independent Media would ask President Vladimir Putin to veto the bill if the Duma did not change its position (Polit.ru, April 27). Derk Sauer, Independent Media’s CEO, said the bill, if it became law, “would be the worst possible message to investors, Russian and foreign alike” (Moscow Times, April 27). The Russian oil company Yukos holds a 10-percent stake in Independent Media.
Meanwhile, another scandal involving media erupted yesterday, when a group of armed men took over the offices of the Moskoviya television company. The channel is 44-percent owned by the Moscow Oblast government, headed by Governor Boris Gromov. A 56-percent stake is held by a company called Television Technical Center, which was sold the controlling share by Gromov’s predecessor, former Moscow Oblast Governor Anatoly Tyazhlov, just prior to the end of his term in late 1999. As in the case of NTV, the takeover of Moskoviya’s offices took place shortly after the majority shareholder voted to replace the station’s management. The minority shareholders claim that the changes were made in a meeting that they neither participated in nor even were informed of. The Union of Journalists of Russia today called the Moskoviya takeover “an illegal action taken by a group of persons representing an illegitimate board of directors that was elected without the participation of a major shareholder” (NTV.ru, Polit.ru, April 27).
PROSECUTORS SEARCH APARTMENT OF NOVAYA GAZETA DEPUTY GENERAL DIRECTOR.