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.
U.S. BANKER IN CHARGE
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.
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