The two-week-old standoff between Gazprom, the 38-percent state-owned gas monopoly, and NTV television reached its denouement this weekend, when the channel’s new Gazprom-appointed managers took over its offices and studios at Moscow’s Ostankino television center. The takeover began at approximately 3:30 AM on April 14, when security guards working for the new management team, which Gazprom installed following a hostile takeover of NTV’s board of directors earlier this month, arrived at the studios to replace the existing security guards. The new security guards had orders to allow in only those NTV employees on a special list drawn up by the new management team, whose members, including Boris Jordan, the new general director, and Vladimir Kulistikov, the new chief editor, arrived later to occupy their new offices. Several of NTV’s journalists who had denounced and resisted the Gazprom takeover, including Marianna Maksimovskaya and Grigory Kirchvsky, were fired, while some thirty–including Svetlana Sorokina, host of Glas Naroda, a political talk show, and Viktor Shenderovich, the chief writer for two political satire programs, Kukly and Itogi–resigned and walked over to the studios of TNT, a regional network still owned and operated by Media-Most chief Vladimir Gusinsky, NTV’s founder and ousted board chairman. At around 8 AM, a news program prepared by the rebel journalists was broadcast from TNT’s studios over NTV’s airwaves–it operates on the country’s 4th channel–but the signal was cut within five minutes. A bit later on April 14, the new NTV team began broadcasting news programs over the 4th channel, while the dissident team of journalists, led by Yevgeny Kiselev, NTV’s ousted general director and chief editor, continued to broadcast over TNT’s signal.
Itogi, Kiselev’s influential weekly new analysis program, which has been taken off the NTV schedule, was broadcast last night over TNT. The audio portion of the program was also broadcast over Radio Ekho Moskvy, which is part of Gusinsky’s Media-Most. NTV’s website–NTV.ru, which features news and transcripts of programs, including Itogi, belongs to MeMoNet, an Internet company owned by Gusinsky–is also continuing to put out the Gusinsky-Kiselev side of the conflict.
However, TNT, along with the rest of Media-Most, could also come under Gazprom’s control if Gusinsky fails to pay off a US$262 million debt to the gas monopoly which comes due in July. This explains why Kiselev has provisionally accepted an offer to become interim general director of TV-6, the Moscow television station seen in about forty Russian cities and owned by Boris Berezovsky. During yesterday’s Itogi broadcast, Kiselev said that he would join TV-6 only if that channel’s existing team were kept on in its entirety and if “an absolutely clear and transparent mechanism” were developed to provide legal protection for the channel’s journalists and managers vis-a-vis the channel’s owners. Kiselev said that he would continue to challenge the legality of Gazprom’s takeover of NTV in court, appealing to the Supreme Court if necessary, but questioned the impartiality of Russia’s judicial system (NTV.ru, April 16; Kommersant, April 16; Radio Ekho Moskvy, April 15-16).
POLITICIANS REACT TO NTV TAKEOVER.