Russian outcry at loss of independent voice
Shareholders Tuesday named pro-Kremlin board at the only non-state-run network.
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"It is clear there was pressure from above, from the Kremlin, to make courts change their minds like that," says Sergei Grigoryants, chairman of the Glasnost Foundation, an independent media watchdog based in Moscow. "Courts in Russia do not always speak for the law."Skip to next paragraph
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The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any role in the struggle over NTV, and insisted Media Most's troubles are normal for any heavily indebted company. Mr. Jordan sounded the same theme in a statement on Wednesday. "Today, NTV is facing a financial crisis," he said. "My first priority is to stabilize the situation and return the company to a position of financial independence. This will allow us to ensure NTV enjoys the editorial independence that has become its trademark."
In another country, this might indeed look like a struggle for business control. But analysts say President Putin stands behind the campaign to seize NTV, the only remaining nationwide broadcaster not under state control. Two other main networks, ORT and RTR, are government-run. "There is no doubt that the Kremlin is orchestrating all this," says Andrei Piontkovsky, director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Moscow. "The goal is to impose the state ideology on all major media outlets."
Journalists and protesters at NTV's headquarters on Wednesday were equally certain. "This is purely a political issue, and [the takeover] comes from Mr. Putin," says news director Kritchevsky. "We will stay on air, we will broadcast our news every two hours - and more if necessary."
It will be "impossible" to work under the new managers, he says. The journalists union, meanwhile, is starting a defense fund for NTV workers. "We know a lot of fine journalists are going to be getting pink slips from Gazprom, and in Russia that means they will be blacklisted as well," says Mr. Gutionov, the union official. "We will have to find ways to help them support their families through this struggle."
If NTV journalists lose, Kritchevsky says, "Russia might be another country." He adds that Putin's state-of-the-nation address on Tuesday - in which the former KGB agent spoke of "citizen's rights" and the state's need to rekindle the "trust" of the people - was hot air.
"He spoke beautifully, but what did he do?" Kritchevsky asks. "Gazprom is a state-run company, and its relations with Putin are very tight."
A 'Soviet-style' mentality?
That view was expressed among the handful of supporters who gathered yesterday in front of NTV's offices, under a Russian flag attached to a stick, with a black mourning banner tied to the top.
"They are going to shut down NTV because during the last decade, our top officials were politically underdeveloped," says protester Lyudmilla Zagurskaya. "As a representative of the KGB, Putin is interested in installing his own people, with the same Soviet-style mentality."
She is here, she says, because the risks of failure will echo far into the future. "I want to live in a free Russia, and I want my children and grandchildren to live in a free Russia," Ms. Zagurskaya says. "That's why for me, this is that last battle to defend freedom of speech."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor