Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 129

A finding by a Moscow court this week has to all intents and purposes sealed the fate of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most holding. On July 4, the Moscow City Court overturned a Media-Most appeal protesting a municipal court’s May decision, in which it ruled that a disputed 19-percent stake in NTV television and 25-percent stakes in twenty-three other Media-Most companies must be transferred to Gazprom-Media, the natural gas monopoly’s media arm, in lieu of Media-Most’s unpaid debts to the gas giant. This latest decision means that Gazprom, which is now 49-percent state owned, has essentially completed its takeover of Media-Most. Indeed, the failure of Media-Most’s appeal means that Gazprom-Media has formalized its control of NTV–which it took over earlier this year–and effectively taken over NTV+ (Media-Most’s satellite television network), TNT (its regional television network), Memonet (the Internet company that runs the website) and, most important, Radio Ekho Moskvy. Media-Most lawyer Geralina Lyubarskaya said that the company would appeal the July 4 court decision in the European Court for Human Rights. That, however, is likely to have little impact on who controls the erstwhile Media-Most outlets (, July 4).

Five of Radio Ekho Moskvy’s deputy chief editors and twelve of its journalists tendered their resignations yesterday (July 5) to protest the Moscow City Court decision, which they characterized as amounting to the radio station’s “nationalization.” Radio Ekho Moskvy’s managers, including its chief editor Aleksei Venediktov, had been negotiating with Gazprom and Gusinsky to purchase a majority stake in the station, and Gusinsky had agreed to hand over his 14-percent stake to the station’s employees. This week Gazprom agreed to sell the station a 9-percent stake, which, combined with Gusinsky’s stake and the equity already owned by the station’s employees, would have given the employees a controlling share. On July 2, however, the Prosecutor General’s Office, which has charged Gusinsky with large-scale fraud, ordered that his 14-percent stake in Radio Ekho Moskvy be frozen. This means that Gazprom now controls 52 percent, and the station’s managers and journalists 34 percent.

Sergei Buntman, who was Radio Ekho Moskvy’s first deputy chief editor before resigning yesterday, warned that Gazprom’s takeover had created the possibility that the state will impose “direct censorship” on the station. Irina Tsvei, the station’s market director, said she thought that the promise made by Gazprom-Media chief Alfred Kokh to sell the station’s journalists and editors a 9-percent stake was part of a game and that she had personally heard Kokh say that he wanted to take over the station. “I don’t want to work for a state radio station,” Tsvei said. For their part, Gazprom-Media representatives said that the resignations at Radio Ekho Moskvy were the station’s “internal affair” but added that they had reached “constructive solutions” during negotiations with the station’s journalists and editors and wanted to continue those talks. Venediktov, who remains Radio Ekho Moskvy’s chief editor, said that, based on his experience in negotiating with Kokh, there was a 90-percent probability that no mutually satisfactory solution would be found. He also said that if Gazprom’s status as the station’s majority shareholder is formalized within the next two weeks, he will resign (Kommersant, July 6; Russian agencies, AP, July 5). This past April, Gazprom took over the board of directors of Media-Most’s NTV television and replaced the channel’s top management. It subsequently took over Segodnya, Media-Most’s daily newspaper, and Itogi, its weekly magazine, closing down the former and replacing the editorial staff of the latter.