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The Times of India on Line

NTV holds protest rally against takeover

April 8, 2001

MOSCOW: Saying their independent voice was under threat, journalists from Russia's pioneering NTV held a rally under rainy skies on Saturday and urged their supporters to stand fast withthem against a takeover by state-connected gas company Gazprom.

The station's embattled director, Yevgeny Kiselyov, told thousands gathered near the Ostankino broadcast centre that "as long as you support us, we can go on working normally and undisturbed, the way our profession demands."

"We're counting on you very much, and we won't let you down," Kiselyov said to cheers. Police estimated 5,000 people attended, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported, but NTV said that estimate was low.

Liberal politician Grigory Yavlinsky, looking out over a sea of umbrellas and placards, said, "We are here to defend what is dear to us... We are free people and we won't give up our freedom." NTV, the only nationwide television channel not controlled by the government, say the Gazprom takeover is being orchestrated by the Kremlin to muzzle its coverage of governmentcorruption, human rights abuses, and the war in Chechnya. Gazprom, however, says it's a purely commercial dispute. The gas company is a major shareholder in and creditor to NTV and says the takeoverwas prompted by debts the station has failedto pay back.

NTV's founder, media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, accepted loan guarantees from Gazprom in1996 - before his relations with the Kremlin soured.

Last week, Gazprom installed its loyalists on the NTV board and named a new director, financier Boris Jordan, to replace Kiselyov. NTV journalists call the move illegal andsay they won't work for the new ownership, while Gazprom says the change is needed to protect its investment in the station.

Negotiations between the two side scrumbled Friday, dimming hopes for a compromise.Gazprom rejected an NTV proposal to have President Vladimir Putin refer the matter to the Supreme Court.

Putin has remained silent on the five-daystruggle, while Western governments have expressed concern over the fate of the network and media freedom.

US media mogul Ted Turner has urged the journalists to keep the conflict from escalating while he works on a deal to buy NTV shares from founder Gusinsky, who is in Spain fighting extradition on a Russian fraud warrant.

One prominent NTV journalist, Leonid Parfenov, said in an open letter to the Kommersantnewspaper that he was quitting, and criticised Kiselyov for his handling of the dispute, saying he hadchosen the wrong people to represent the station inthe dispute. (AP)

See the original at http://www.timesofindia.com/080401/08euro4.htm

The Times of India on Line, April 8, 2001

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