Independent Media Seized in Russia
Russia's Only Independent TV Network -- Gone?
Our thanks to www.freedomforum.org for alerting us on this little-known situation.
Media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky apparently has lost control of NTV, the only independent television network in Russia.
The natural gas corporation Gazprom, which owns 46% of the shares, says that with 19% nominally held by Gusinsky now frozen by the courts, Gazprom-Media has become the key shareholder and is effectively in control.
Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh announced that he was taking over control of NTV television and planning to install a new board that will not include NTV founder Gusinsky, according to reports carried today by The Moscow Times and the Russian Internet news service Gazeta.ru.
The Moscow Times referred to the announcement as "a stunning turn in the months-long battle for the only national television station still independent of the Kremlin."
The stage was set for the takeover yesterday when court marshals seized the disputed 19% of NTV shares and forbade Gusinsky's Media-Most company from voting those shares.
"This means that the number of voting shares is 81 percent, and consequently Gazprom with 46 percent is the controlling shareholder," Kokh said at a news conference. Gusinsky's Media-Most Holding Co. said the court marshals had violated the court decision and predicted the battle was not yet over.
Kokh said he would call an emergency shareholders meeting "within days" and bring in new Gazprom representatives, including himself. Gusinsky and his closest associates, Igor Malashenko and Andrei Tsimailo, will be ousted. Management changes at NTV are also likely, Kokh said.
Appearing in a what the press called "a dramatic duel" with an NTV correspondent on the channel's program "Geroi Dnya," or Hero of the Day, Kokh said he was "satisfied" with Yevgeny Kiselyov as NTV's general director, according to the Moscow Times.
After insistent questions about the Kremlin's role in his takeover of NTV, Kokh said President Vladimir Putin had summoned him to his country residence to discuss the future of NTV. According to Kokh, Putin told him that Gazprom-Media should not influence the channel's news coverage.
"'I am the guarantor of press freedom,'" Kokh quoted Putin as saying.
Sounds like Russia could use some structural guarantees of a free press -- in case Putin's mood changes. What's going on here? Tell your views to The Progress Report:
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