Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 33

Dzhabrailov’s September 2 departure from the presidential race left Bislan Gantemirov, his most prominent supporter in Grozny, in an untenable position. Gantemirov had taken the risky step of publicly endorsing Dzhabrailov without resigning from his post as Kadyrov’s minister of the press. Not surprisingly, Gantemirov was fired on September 3, just one day after Dzhabrailov’s withdrawal. Even more dramatic was the display of force that took place within another twenty-four hours, when gunmen from Kadyrov’s personal army surrounded the building of the GTRK (Groznenskaya gosudarstvennaya teleradiokompania; that is, the Grozny State Television and Radio Company). The GTRK is the public television and radio station that the information ministry had created. (GTRK, which received its broadcast license in May, is one of only two television stations in Chechnya; the other is controlled by pro-Kadyrov officials.)

On the very day that this siege took place, GTRK journalists learned that their ministry was being restructured and that they would be under new management. As reported by the website Gazeta.ru on September 5, “the information ministry was combined with the nationalities ministry and placed under the control of Kadyrov’s close aid, Taus Dzhabrailov, who concurrently with his ministerial duties works as Kadyrov’s campaign manager.”

In a telephone conversation with the Moscow Times, GTRK Deputy Director Islam Musaev said that all the radio journalists had resigned and that the television station had suspended its broadcasts. According to a September 5 article in the daily Russky kurier, a “majority” of the television journalists had done likewise. Some eight Chechen newspapers also suspended publication, according to a September 8 article in Novaya gazeta. On September 4 the radio station had been scheduled to provide free air time to three of the ten competing candidates, as decided by an earlier lottery: what the listeners heard instead was silence.

It was unclear from subsequent reports how many of the journalists had held to their intention of resigning, and how soon the various media had resumed or would resume working. A September 9 article on the pro-Kadyrov website Chechnyafree.ru quoted one Khamzat Umkhaev, whom it described as the “acting minister for nationalities and press,” as saying that the Grozny television station was broadcasting normally and that all the newspapers were also being published on schedule.

GTRK deputy director Zaur Estirkhanov told the daily Russky kurier that the gunmen blockading the GTRK building on September 4 refused for most of the day to let reporters leave with their microphones, cameras and other equipment day–effectively making it impossible for them to conduct interviews. The Kadyrov troops apparently claimed that they needed to prevent the journalists from making off with equipment that belonged to the state.

One of the journalists told Russky kurier that he and his colleagues had been given to understand that they would have to change their editorial policy, “i.e., not to broadcast news stories that might be disadvantageous to those in power.” Before last week’s shakeup, GTRK had apparently been willing to air such stories. One pro-Gantemirov journalist told Gazeta.ru that “we would talk about how people are being defrauded in the payment of compensation for their destroyed residences, that there is no free medical care, that there is no money for getting one’s children ready for school….Not openly but indirectly, we were abusing Kadyrov.”

Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that GTRK ever worked according to western standards of objectivity. According to various sources quoted by Russky kurier, it had functioned as a “family television company” for Gantemirov, hiring his relatives and political allies. But its reorganization clearly places it directly under the control of Kadyrov’s circle. Russky kurier noted that “A legitimate question has arisen: Did Gantemirov think about the consequences that his announcement of support for Dzhabrailov might bring about?”

“It’s obvious who we will have to work for now,” said one GTRK employee to the website Gazeta.ru. “Political campaigning is already taking place for just one candidate, the Chechen Republic channel is doing that twelve hours a day.”

The Kadyrov administration’s prime minister, Anatoly Popov, who is acting president until election day, said that the restructuring of the information ministry had nothing to do with politics.