MOSCOW (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters, many with signs denouncing
President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites), poured into a Moscow square on
Saturday to defend Russia's sole independent national TV station from what they
saw as official attack.
Prominent liberals told more than 10,000 people in Pushkin Square, traditional
meeting place and site of protests even in Soviet times, that NTV television was
in danger of being closed.
The rally, interspersed with rock music, was one of the largest in years to be
attended by Muscovites grown apathetic after political passions of the 1980s and
Demonstrators carried green balloons or stuck green balls to their clothing,
echoing NTV's green ball trademark. They spilled over into adjacent streets and
perched on tree branches.
"Mr. President, leave NTV alone!" said one placard. Others had prison bars
superimposed on the NTV logo.
NTV's founder, businessman Vladimir Gusinsky, currently in Spain fighting
extradition on fraud charges, is trying to fend off a takeover bid by
state-dominated gas giant Gazprom. A shareholders' meeting next week may try to
Liberals see the row, and legal action against NTV, as a test of Putin's
commitment to press freedom and fair reporting of issues like Russia's war against
"We know why they want to destroy NTV. So that we will never know about
millions of dollars taken out of the country...about how a war is being conducted
with slogans of fighting terrorism and corruption," Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of
the Yabloko party, told the gathering.
"We know that this is not about fighting terrorists and corruption but about the
fight for press freedom."
NTV has earned a reputation as a critic of Kremlin policies, particularly Russia's
two military campaigns against Chechnya. It has accused Putin of chipping away
at individual freedoms in a little more than a year in office.
Director Says Station Could Be Closed
Yevgeny Kiselyov, NTV's general director and anchor of its flagship news
program, said the station could be closed soon.
"It's quite serious. I am going to present my own program on Sunday and this
one could be the last. It is very simple -- a new management could do anything,"
he told reporters. "Those who say this is a financial dispute are either idiots or
liars. It's about freedom of the press, of society, of Russia."
Sergei Parkhomenko, editor of the weekly Itogi magazine, said the rally "shows
we have support. Political leaders will be furious. But maybe those police in
masks carrying out raids on our offices will think twice about what they are
Musicians and athletes also spoke in defense of NTV during the two-hour
gathering in bright spring sunshine.
Demonstrators at one point watched figures from NTV's weekly satirical
"Puppets" show on a big screen. Putin's puppet likeness, dressed in skiing gear
in an allusion to frequent outings on the slopes, welcomed people to the square.
The rally had been given wide publicity all week on NTV and on radio stations
and newspapers in Gusinsky's Media-Most group.
But Russia's other two national television networks, state RTR television and
ORT public television, ignored the gathering in their Saturday afternoon news
Many rally participants were pleased at the large turnout.
"I just wanted to do my bit for NTV," said Maya, a museum worker in her sixties.
"It was so good to look around at all the faces of people who had clearly thought
about all these issues."
20,000 Turn Out in Support of NTV
The Moscow Times, Monday, April 2, 2001, p.3
Thousands Demonstrate in Moscow
The Associated Press
Saturday March 31 7:11 AM ET
Russians Protest for Press Freedom
The Associated Press
Saturday March 31 11:52 AM ET