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The Russia Journal

Russia faces showdown over independent TV

TV MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's state-dominated gas monopoly ditched the managers of NTV, the country's only nationwide independent television network, on Tuesday and puta U.S. banker in charge.

Defiant journalists from NTV television said they stood by their ousted boss, while police vans gathered outside their studio ``to maintain public order''.

NTV journalists, modelling their actions on those taken by Czech reporters during a strike in the Czech Republic last year, stood behind the anchor on the main evening news, with the word ``protest'' written in red over the company's logo.

The fate of the station, by far the most influential source of information in Russia outside the Kremlin's direct command, overshadowed Putin's annual address to parliament.

The case is widely seen as a test of Putin's tolerance of dissent, although the Kremlin says it is above the fight.

NTV journalists read out a defiant statement on the air, accusing Putin of waging a campaign to stifle them.

``We have no doubt that Vladimir Putin, as before, knows full well what is going on and is thus responsible for the consequences,'' the statement said.

Six police vans with about 30 officers, were parked outside the Ostankino studio, where NTV is based. One officer told Reuters they were there ``to maintain public order''.

Energy giant Gazprom sacked NTV's board at a shareholders' meeting it held at its Moscow office tower. The gas company acquired a large stake in NTV by guaranteeing founder Vladimir Gusinsky's debts. It says it is the majority shareholder because some of Gusinsky's shares arefrozen. Gusinsky's supporters had taken legal action toblock the shareholder meeting, but court rulings barring it were overturned at the last minute.

Gusinsky is in Spain fighting extradition on fraud charges he says are part of a campaign to silence him.

Among those ditched from the board were Gusinsky and General Director Yevgeny Kiselyov, NTV's most prominent journalist and host of its flagship analytical show, Itogi (Summing Up).

The NTV journalists' statement pledged support for Kiselyov.

``Today's shareholders' meeting, called by Gazprom-Media, is illegal. 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,'' they said.

A statement from the new Gazprom-backed board named Boris Jordan, a 34-year-old American banker who gained prominence as a dealmaker during Russia's turbulent mid-1990s privatisation programme, as Kiselyov's replacement as general director.

Vladimir Kulistikov, head of the state RIA news agency, was named NTV's editor-in-chief, while the head of Gazprom's media arm, Alfred Kokh, became chairman.

Jordan told a hastily-assembled news conference he had no intention of interfering in NTV's editorial policy and promised to resign if he came under ``pressure'' from the Kremlin.

``NTV's problem is not freedom of speech but ineffective financial management,'' he said. ``There are two NTVs. The journalists, about whom there are no questions, and the business, about which there are questions.''

Kokh said Kiselyov was scheduled to host Itogi on Sunday. Kiselyov has said he will not work under a Gazprom board.

Kulistikov said editorial changes were on the way, saying the station had recently become partisan.

More than 10,000 NTV supporters gathered at the weekend in one of the largest demonstrations Moscow has seen in years.

See the original at http://russiajournal.ru/news/rj_news.shtml?nd=505

The Russia Journal

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