Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 131

While the letter from Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble may help raise the spirits of Vladimir Gusinsky and his allies, it can do little to change the facts–first, that Media-Most and its outlets have in essence been taken over by the state-controlled Gazprom, and, second, that the criminal proceedings against Gusinsky and other Media-Most officials are still in high gear. The Prosecutor General’s Office announced yesterday that it had completed its investigation of Media-Most’s financial director, Anton Titov, who was imprisoned in January of this year in connection with the case against Gusinsky. Titov, who has been in jail ever since, is now charged with large-scale fraud, money laundering and using fake documents (Lenta.ru, July 9). Last week, in connection with the criminal case against Media-Most and Gusinsky, the Prosecutor General’s Office impounded both Gusinsky’s armored Mercedes 600 and the building in central Moscow that housed Media-Most’s corporate headquarters (Russian agencies, July 6).

The takeover of Media-Most and its sole remaining influential outlet, Radio Ekho Moskvy, was made possible last week, when the Moscow City Court rendered a verdict handing over a disputed 19-percent stake in NTV television and 25-percent stakes in twenty-three other Media-Most outlets to Gazprom, and the Prosecutor General’s Office froze the 14-percent stake in Radio Ekho Moskvy that Gusinsky had handed over to the station’s employees. The court decision gave Gazprom control over 52 percent of Radio Ekho Moskvy. Although Gazprom-Media, the gas giant’s media arm, is promising to sell a 9-percent stake in Radio Ekho Moskvy to the station’s employees, the freezing of the 14-percent stake would appear to make it impossible for the employees to gain a controlling share in the station. A number of Radio Ekho Moskvy’s editors and journalists have resigned to protest what they call the station’s de facto “nationalization” (see the Monitor, July 6).

The Union of Journalists of Russia, meanwhile, released a statement saying that the decision of the Prosecutor General’s Office to freeze Gusinsky’s 14-percent stake in Radio Ekho Moskvy had ended hopes “for a civilized solution of the question of ownership of the station,” which it called “the best information radio channel in the country.” The union stated that the step appeared to be aimed “at forcing virtually the last weighty and authoritative nongovernmental structure off the air” and at extending state control over “Russia’s information space” (Novaya Gazeta, July 5; see the Monitor, July 6). The Union of Journalists is now counterpoised by Media Soyuz, the pro-Kremlin journalists’ union set up last fall and headed by Aleksandr Lyubimov, a deputy director of Russian Public Television (ORT) and an anchor of one of its programs. Addressing a forum in St. Petersburg held last month to present the new union, President Vladimir Putin said it was the duty of journalists to “work constructively, in the interests of all of society… [and] contribute to the formation of Russia’s single information space” (Russian agencies, June 13). In a newspaper interview published last month, Lyubimov said, among other things, that “there is always a need for censorship” and that “democracy does not arise from below” (Rossiya, June 20; see also the Fortnight in Review, June 22).