Ekho Moskvy's chief editor said Wednesday he is prepared to take
his 90-member staff to second-tier television station TV6 if the
journalists fail to obtain a controlling stake in the independent
radio station. The threat appeared to be a preemptive move by
editor Alexei Venediktov to prevent state-connected creditor Gazprom-Media
from gaining control of Ekho Moskvy. The radio is now controlled
by a team loyal to Media-MOST. Gazprom-Media ousted the editorial
team of debt-ridden NTV television last month after taking over
Venediktov said that a group of journalist shareholders hope
to buy from Gazprom-Media enough shares to give them a stake of
more than 50 percent in the radio station. "If Ekho Moskvy
falls under the control of the government, I will leave the station,"
Venediktov said by telephone. "If we don't succeed in buying
a controlling stake, then there are options of going to TV6, starting
a new radio station or I might return to school teaching."
Ekho Moskvy is the only national radio news broadcaster that is
not under state control. Gazprom-Media is a subsidiary of natural
gas giant Gazprom, which has been taking over the assets of debtor
Media-MOST. Media-MOST says the takeover is politically motivated.
Gazprom-Media says it is trying to recoup its loans.
Gazprom-Media had no comment Wednesday. Venediktov said the journalists
have a 28 percent stake in EkhoMoskvy, which, combined with Media-MOST's
14.5 percent stake, leaves them 8 percent short of a controlling
stake. Gazprom-Media owns a 25 percent plus one share stake. Two
percent is owned by NTV, 5 percent is held by disinterested parties
and 25 percent has been frozen by a court order in a dispute between
Media-MOST and Gazprom-Media, according to Ekho Moskvy general
director Yury Fedutinov. "The best outcome would be that
no one has a controlling stake," Fedutinov said in a telephone
interview. Venediktov apparently fears that the best outcome will
not happen, so he has taken his quest to secure a controlling
stake to Gazprom-Media, the Press Ministry and the presidential
administration. He said he felt confident that his team would
retain a loyal audience wherever they worked, but conceded that
getting a license to open a new station could be difficult. "We
think that the financial problems can be solved relatively easily.
The harder ones to solve are the political ones," Venediktov
said. TV6 spokeswoman Tatyana Blinova said the channel would try
to accommodate Venediktov and his journalists if need be. A team
of journalists from NTV flocked to TV6 after Gazprom-Media took
over the station in April. Ousted NTV general director Yevgeny
Kiselyov was appointed TV6's general director on Monday. Also
Monday, a dispute reared its head over TV6's solvency when the
channel's minority shareholders announced they had started bankruptcy
proceedings in court.
The Moscow arbitration court said Wednesday that it will consider
on May 31 a lawsuit by the LUKoil-Garant pension fund to liquidate
TV6, Interfax reported. It is to hear on June 7 a LUKoil-Garant
suit to invalidate a March 29 meeting in which Boris Berezovsky
took control of TV6's board. Berezovsky owns 75 percent of TV6.
The court will also hear June 7 a lawsuit contesting Monday's
shareholders meeting that resulted in Kiselyov's appointment,
Interfax said. LUKoil-Garant, which holds a 15 percent stake in
TV6, and the Moscow City Hall-connected MKNT Co., which holds
10 percent, unsuccessfully opposed the appointment.
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