Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 69

The battle between the ousted members of the NTV television team and the channel’s new Gazprom-installed management team continued over the weekend, with the two sides and trading threats and accusations while thousands of Russians demonstrated in support of the embattled television channel.

Alfred Kokh–the head of Gazprom-Media who replaced Vladimir Gusinsky as head of NTV’s board of directors in last week’s hostile takeover of the channel by the state-controlled Gazprom–hinted yesterday that its conflict with NTV’s journalists–who have rallied behind the channel’s ousted general director, Yevgeny Kiselev, and refuse to recognize the new management team–might be ended by force. Kokh told state television that Gazprom would try to avoid using “force methods” or firing any of the channel’s journalists. NTV’s management team, he added, would resort to “tougher force methods” only if it received no response to “all of our gestures of good will.” He also took aim at what he characterized as the ousted NTV team’s “vain attempts” to paint itself as a victim of political pressure from the state, noting that all of the channel’s loans came from state structures, including the Moscow mayor’s office and Sberbank (RTR, April 8).

Kokh’s line of attack appears to fit into the Kremlin’s overall propaganda offensive against NTV. For example, the newspaper Izvestia featured on its front page today a letter from Oleg Dobrodeyev, the former NTV general director who is now chairman of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), the state media holding which includes RTR state television. Like Kokh, Dobrodeyev stressed the close relations which NTV and Media-Most enjoyed with the Kremlin. Dobrodeyev claimed, among other things, that Pavel Borodin–the former Kremlin property manager who over the weekend was extradited from the United States to Switzerland to face money laundering charges–and Shamil Tarpishchev–the former de facto sports minister who was also among the more controversial members of Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle–had worked hard to get NTV its broadcasting license. Dobrodeyev also alleged that after the start of the Chechen military campaign in the fall of 1999, Kiselev and Gusinsky essentially tried to blackmail the authorities by offering to soften critical coverage of the conflict in exchange for a “prolongation of credits” (Izvestia, April 9). At the end of last week, two NTV journalists, Leonid Parfenov and Tat’yana Mitkova, quit the channel, with Parfenov accusing Kiselev in an open letter of using the journalists as “cannon fodder” in the battle with Gazprom and of stifling free expression. According to reports today, three more NTV journalists have quit the channel (Russian agencies, April 9).

Kiselev has returned fire at both Parfenov and the Kremlin. Today, in his own open letter, he accused Parfenov of being a traitor and a coward (Kommersant, March 7, 9). Last night, during the broadcast of NTV’s weekly news analysis program Itogi, he alleged that an officer from one of the country’s “power structures” had given him documentary evidence last year that top government officials had a plan to use Gazprom to destroy Media-Most and take over its constituent media. According to Kiselev, the top officials involved in the plot included Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin and Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, who last week said that the government should not get involved in the dispute (NTV, April 8).

On April 6, Kokh and Lesin appeared on Glas Naroda, NTV’s live political talk show. Not surprisingly, their exchanges with Media-Most journalists were highly acrimonious. Sergei Parkhomenko, chief editor of Media-Most’s weekly magazine–also called Itogi–noted that Kokh, who previously headed Russia’s state privatization agency, once said that top privatization officials should receive a 3-percent commission from each of the privatization deals they oversaw. In response, Kokh alleged that when he was still in charge of privatization, Vladimir Gusinsky had tried to bribe him on several occasions (NTV, April 6). It should be noted that Itogi magazine, a joint venture with the U.S. magazine Newsweek, is facing closure. The reason: Dmitry Birykov, president of the magazine’s publisher Seven Days and one of its major shareholders, has joined forces with Gazprom–a move which essentially robbed Gusinsky of control over the publishing house (see the Monitor, March 9). In an interview published today, Parkhomenko warned that Itogi might not come out this week–at least the version produced by its existing staff. Birykov has reportedly hired a new team to put out an alternative edition. Meanwhile, Birykov announced in a statement today that Seven Days would hand over the publishing house’s stake in Segodnya to the newspaper’s journalists for free so that they can put the paper out themselves if they so choose. This, as the Polit.ru website noted, effectively means that Segodnya will be closed down (Polit.ru, April 9).