Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 93

Meanwhile, RFE/RL has created a controversy of its own by removing Savik Shuster as head of the Radio Liberty Moscow bureau. Shuster says that he was ousted for continuing to appear on an NTV soccer talk show following the television channel’s takeover by the state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom last month (see the Monitor, May 11). Shuster, who said he was “shocked” and “bewildered” by his removal, called it “a political decision as a result of intense lobbying in Washington” and said that it was “close to censorship.” While RFE/RL has not yet commented on Shuster’s removal, Shuster read from his dismissal letter, which stated that his appearances on NTV violated RFE/RL’s professional code, “ethical foundation” and conflict of interest policy, and were “harmful to the public trust upon which RFE/RL credibility and effectiveness are based” (Moscow Times, May 14).

Shuster appeared on NTV’s “Hero of the Day” program on May 11 to discuss his removal. He said he had felt solidarity with the NTV journalists who had quit the channel following Gazprom’s takeover, but subsequently came to believe that that the battle over the station was “an struggle of oligarchs” and “a question of property, not journalism” and thus decided it would be “absolutely normal” for him to resume appearing on NTV as a soccer commentator (NTV, May 11). The same Shuster appeared on “Hero of the Day,” NTV said in a statement that Shuster’s removal had made a “parody” of everything that Radio Liberty had done to protect the principles of independent journalism. The statement, carried by the state’s RIA news agency, said that NTV had not changed its commitment to freedom of speech and press independence–presumably meaning since Gazprom’s takeover–and thus that RFE/RL’s complaints against Shuster were “far-fetched” (Russian agencies, May 11).

The English-language Moscow Times has also criticized Shuster’s removal. The paper noted that he had been appearing on NTV’s soccer program since 1998 and that RFE/RL had not raised the conflict of interest issue prior to Gazprom’s takeover. “Doing so now strongly implies Radio Liberty’s endorsement of NTV’s former owner Vladimir Gusinsky and casts serious doubts over the station’s objectivity,” the paper wrote. It also reported that Shuster had “strenuously” opposed RFE/RL’s decision to begin Chechen-language broadcasts (Moscow Times, May 11).