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
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
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)
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