Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 217

Yevgeny Kiselev, general director of NTV television and host of “Itogi,” its weekly news analysis program, has been summoned by the Prosecutor General’s Office to appear for questioning today. The office’s press center announced today that Kiselev will be questioned in connection with a criminal investigation into the Most Security Service, which, like NTV and its parent group, the Media-Most holding, belongs to Vladimir Gusinsky. Prosecutors are investigating whether the security service violated privacy laws. Last night, Media-Most’s press office had cited “preliminary unofficial information” that Kiselev would be questioned in connection with material which the channel broadcast several years ago (Russian agencies, November 19-20). In May of this year, following a raid by law enforcement agents on Media-Most’s offices in Moscow, various law enforcement officials claimed that the Gusinsky’s security service had carried out illegal surveillance and eavesdropping. Gusinsky insisted that the security service was used mainly to guard various buildings and sometimes to protect journalists working on dangerous assignments (see the Monitor, May 12, June 8).

NTV, like Media-Most’s other outlets, has been highly critical of President Vladimir Putin and has devoted more attention than other Russian media to allegations of corruption among prominent Yeltsin-era Kremlin insiders. Kiselev has been among the more outspoken of Media-Most’s journalists and executives. On last night’s Itogi, for example, he said he believed that the Kremlin was moving toward restoring various aspects of Soviet-era authoritarian rule. Kiselev stressed that he was stating his own opinion (NTV, November 19). The Prosecutor General’s Office recently issued an arrest warrant for Gusinsky, who is not in Russia, for alleged large-scale fraud in connection with Media-Most’s debts to its main creditor, Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas monopoly. Later, the office announced that it was reviving another case against Gusinsky, involving allegations that he embezzled US$10 million from the state several years ago during the privatization of Russkoye Video, a St. Petersburg-based company (see the Monitor, November 13, 17).

The timing of the Kiselev summons was interesting, in that it came just two days after Media-Most signed an agreement with Gazprom to pay off its debts. The new agreement followed one signed a week earlier on November 11, which Gazprom subsequently disavowed (see the Monitor, November 14). According to the new agreement, signed on November 17, Gazprom-Media, the media arm of the gas giant, will get a so-called blocking share–meaning 25 percent plus one share–of all of Media-Most’s companies except for NTV as repayment for US$211 million in debt. Another 25 percent of the companies will be given to Gazprom as collateral for a US$262 million debt that comes due next year. At the same time, 16 percent of NTV will go to Gazprom-Media, which already owns 30 percent of the channel, and another 19 percent will serve as collateral. The collateral will be added to another Media-Most share in order to create a 25-percent-plus-one-share stake, which will be sold to an unspecified foreign investor (Moscow Times, November 18). While Media-Most officials–and Kiselev himself, on last night’s Itogi–have emphasized that the terms of the agreement are such that no one investor will hold a controlling share of Media-Most or its constituent companies, and thus will not be able to dictate editorial or personnel policy. On the other hand, Gazprom-Media chief Alfred Kokh noted that Media-Most will now not be able to take any significant decisions without Gazprom-Media’s agreement (Russian agencies, November 17). In any case, the agreement is no guarantee that the authorities will cease what Media-Most–and many independent observers–see as political pressure on its outlets. As Kiselev put it last night: “We, the heads and journalists of NTV, have no illusions: The political pressure on us by the authorities will continue, and we are prepared for that” (NTV, November 19).