MOSCOW, Russia -- Journalists at Russia's only independent television
network are protesting against a takeover by the state-run gas
The journalists at NTV, which broadcasts nationwide, cancelled
all entertainment programming from Wednesday in what they called
an act of civil disobedience.
NTV has been the subject of a vicious takeover battle, which
the station's supporters say is aimed at silencing its independence
voice, which is often critical of President Vladimir Putin.
On Wednesday morning, NTV viewers saw a caption of white letters
on the background of a broadcaster's chair in an emptystudio.
The caption said: "In protest at the illegal seizure of NTV,
only news programmes will be broadcast."
The station was broadcasting news bulletins every half hour.
The white NTV logo at the bottom of the screen was covered with
a red seal reading "Protest." Advertising was being broadcast
E-mail messages to its Web site were also flashed on screen.
"NTV is cool" and "NTV will live!" were some of the messages.
About 100 employees worked through the night at the station's
studios at the Ostankino Tower broadcasting complex in northern
Moscow. Staff barricaded one of the two entrances to the editorial
The station continued to broadcast in the pre-dawn hours on
Wednesday when it usually goes off air.
Several parliament members from the liberal Yabloko party joined
the employees at the studio.
The Communist speaker of the lower house of parliament, Gennady
Seleznyov, vowed that the chamber would "not stand on the sidelines,"
the Interfax news agency reported.
However, attempts to put the NTV dispute on the agenda of both
houses of parliament on Wednesday failed.
The station is often critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin
and its owner Vladimir Gusinsky is fighting extradition from Spain
on fraud charges.
Gusinsky has signed an outline deal giving most of his holdings
to U.S. media mogul and CNN founder, Ted Turner. CNN and its parent
companies have no connection with the deal.
On Tuesday, Gazprom used a controversial shareholders meeting
to pack NTV's board with loyalists and appoint Boris Jordan, a
U.S. banker prominent in a controversial 1990s privatisation programme,
to run the network.
Gazprom's media chief Alfred Kokh -- who was made chairman of
the NTV board -- has also replaced NTV director-general Yevgeny
Gazprom called Tuesday's meeting after it said it had gained
a de facto majority of NTV's shares, because a key 19 percent
block of Gusinsky's shares held as collateral against a loan had
been frozen by acourt.
The boardroom coup pushed NTV founder Gusinsky off the board.
He says fraud charges against him are part of the Kremlin campaign
to seize the only national TV station outside state control.
The deposed team of NTV managers and key presenters held a late-night
meeting inside the building. Earlier, six police vans with about
30 officers had parked outside.
The station's journalists, in a statement read out on the air,
described the shareholders' meeting, called by Gazprom-Media,
They said: "We understand that the final aim of the meeting,
like all of the actions of the authorities against NTV, is to
establish full political control over us."
More than 10,000 NTV supporters gathered at the weekend in one
of the largest demonstrations Moscow has seen in years. Organisers
said a similar protest could be held this weekend.
Among those condemning the takeover was former Russian leader
Mikhail Gorbachev who urged President Vladimir Putin to defend
"Everything that is going on today is nonsense, a challenge
to all society. It diminishes us all," said Gorbachev, who is
head of an NTV standards body.
"I hope the time has come when the president will directly and
firmly come out, in the spirit that he has used in conversations
and in public, in defence of the mass media."
Reuters contributed to this report.
See the original at http://www.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/europe/04/04/russia.television/