Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 70

At the same time, members of NTV’s team of journalists, which initially maintained solidarity in denouncing the Gazprom takeover as illegal and vowing to resist it, continued to jump ship yesterday, with political reporter Aleksei Pivovarov and news anchor Natalya Zabuzova announcing their resignations. On April 8, Mikhail Frolov, host of the channel’s “Kriminal” crime documentary program, said that he was leaving the channel and taking his program with him (Russian agencies, NTV, April 9). These resignations followed last weekend’s departure of two other journalists, Leonid Parfenov and Tat’yana Mitkova. Parfenov and Yevgeny Kiselev, NTV’s ousted general director, denounced one another in open letters (see the Monitor, March 9). Meanwhile, a spokesman for CNN founder Ted Turner, who last week announced he had reached a deal to buy shares in Media-Most from Gusinsky, warned that the departure of NTV’s staff would leave him with nothing to buy, and said it was in Gazprom’s interest to “help calm this situation down” (Washington Post, April 10). Yesterday, several Russian media, including Media-Most’s Radio Ekho Moskvy, posted on their websites what they said were ten “principles” which Turner reportedly drew up in relation to NTV. Some of these appeared potentially contradictory: One, for example, said that NTV should “resist corruption and disinformation,” while another said that the channel should not “place itself in opposition to the government of Russia or any party, political group or person.” However, while some Western media, including Agence France Press, filed reports on these “principles,” a spokesman for Turner said that he knew nothing about them (Radio Liberty, AFP, April 10; see also the Monitor, April 9). Their exact origins remain unclear.

Despite Putin’s reassurances about his commitment to press freedom, it seems clear that his “advice” to NTV’s journalists to appeal to the higher courts–something the NTV journalists have themselves demanded–means simply that he is certain that the country’s higher courts would decide in Gazprom’s favor. “That NTV will not continue to exist in its current form is obvious to everyone,” wrote political columnist Leonid Radzikhovsky in today’s edition of the newspaper Segodnya. “Even if the improbable occurred–the formal demands of [NTV’s] ‘journalistic collective’ were met and their case transferred to the Supreme Court–everyone understands what that court’s finding would be: Gazprom’s demands are absolutely legal, debts have to be repaid and the property holder… has the right to change its employees” (Segodnya, April 10).

Segodnya is also in trouble: Its publishing house, Seven Days–part of Gusinsky’s Media-Most holding and also effectively taken over by Gazprom, has announced that it is handing over the rights to publish Segodnya to the paper’s journalists. Segodnya’s chief editor, Mikhail Berger, said yesterday that the paper would continue to come out under a new publisher–most likely Gusinsky himself–but that it would probably have to cease publishing for three to four weeks during the transition. But while Media-Most spokesman Dmitry Ostalsky said the holding would continue to finance Segodnya, some of the paper’s staffers were less sanguine about the paper’s prospects: “I don’t know whether he [Gusinsky] will have any interest in publishing a newspaper, especially now that it’s clear he will lose control over NTV,” Radzikhovsky told the Moscow Times (Moscow Times, April 10).