The long-running battle for control of NTV reached a dramatic climax Tuesday when its shareholder and creditor Gazprom-Media won the backing of a minority U.S. shareholder to oust NTV founder Vladimir Gusinsky and his associates from the board of directors and appoint new management.
Mobbed by reporters outside Ostankino on Tuesday,
NTV news chief Grigory Krichevsky announcing
the protest against the shareholders' decision.
U.S. investment banker Boris Jordan, a player in the government's controversial privatization program of the mid-1990s, was appointed general director. Vladimir Kulistikov, a former NTV journalist who went over to state-run media last fall, was brought back as chief editor.
NTV journalists refused to accept the decision, saying it was illegal and had the sole goal of establishing political control over the station. At a rally-like press conference outside the doors of the Ostankino television center, they presented a statement expressing their determination to stick by current general director Yevgeny Kiselyov.
News anchor Marianna Maximovskaya, who described the takeover as a "personal tragedy," showed a list of signatures and said about 300 out of the 410 people who
work in producing news and current affairs programs had signed the statement supporting Kiselyov.
Grigory Krichevsky, who heads NTV's news service, said journalists were still considering their next move. "Today the issue of a strike is not on the agenda, but
I will not assume the responsibility to say it will never happen," Krichevsky said.
Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky: "This is a kind of GKChP with the participation of foreign capital. Everything we have
heard in the Kremlin today [Putin's address] has neither content nor sense. The real course [of the government] has been demonstrated here with NTV.
The power is not interested in having independent mass media in Russia."
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev: "The way the channel and its team is being dealt with is a challenge to the
entire society, humiliating to all Russian citizens."
Union of Journalists head Igor Yakovenko: "I refuse to discuss the prospect of Russia without NTV. … The liquidation of NTV
would throw Russia back by decades."
Itogi editor Sergei Parkhomenko: "What is going on with NTV is a perfect school for government officials: It is a practicum
on the way 'The Vertical Line of Power' operates. And this vertical line of power does not suggest having a judicial system [referring to
court rulings in favor of NTV]."
-- Oksana Yablokova
NTV broadcast its evening news with rows of journalists standing behind the anchor, and Kiselyov hosted a special edition
of his "Itogi" political show, during which prominent journalists and political figures spoke out in defense of the only
national television station that has challenged the Kremlin line. The NTV logo in the corner of the screen was stamped by
the word "protest" in red letters.
NTV journalists said they expected no help from President Vladimir Putin, whose state of the nation address was overshadowed by the events at NTV. "We have no doubt that Vladimir Putin, as before, knows full well what is going on and is thus responsible for the consequences," their statement said.
At least formally it was minority shareholder Capital Research Management, a U.S. mutual fund that bought 4.5 percent of NTV from Gusinsky in 1999, that made the difference at Tuesday's shareholders meeting.
Capital Research had been seen as Gusinsky's ally in the battle with Gazprom. It also is part of a Western consortium of potential investors, which includes CNN founder Ted Turner and financier George Soros. Since January, the consortium has been in talks with Media-MOST and Gazprom about buying shares in NTV and its sister companies.
Gazprom-Media general director Alfred Kokh said that Gazprom-Media, which controls 46 percent of NTV, and Capital Research Management came up with a quorum Tuesday of 50.44 percent of NTV shares and appointed a new board of directors, which met immediately to appoint Jordan and Kulistikov.
Media-MOST had boycotted the meeting.
Kokh said that Jordan, a U.S. investment banker of Russian descent whom he referred to as "Boris Alexeyevich," could provide the skilled management necessary to "save" the company from default.
"His nomination is the result of a compromise between companies controlled by Gazprom and Capital Research," said Kokh, who has taken Gusinsky's place as chairman of the NTV board.
Kokh said that the decision will "make life easier" for Kiselyov, who will be able to concentrate on journalism.
"He has Sunday's 'Itogi' coming up, he has to shoot documentaries, which we all watch with such pleasure. Let's wish him success on the path that made him famous among Russians," Kokh said with his trademark humor.
On Tuesday's special "Itogi," Kiselyov thanked Kokh for "taking an interest in my fate," but he did not answer the question of whether he will continue hosting "Itogi."
When presented to journalists Tuesday, Jordan introduced Western corporate manners into the ritual of Interfax news conferences. After pledging his allegiance to the "independence and precision" of quality television, to which he has been accustomed since his childhood in the United States, Jordan offered a slide presentation to show the depth of NTV's present financial crisis and his plan to improve its finances.
"There are two NTVs," Jordan said. "The journalists, about whom there are no questions, and the business, about which there are questions."
Jordan said he planned to ask Gazprom to restructure NTV's debts and speed up negotiations with the Turner-led consortium of investors. He pledged to defend NTV journalists from possible pressure coming either from the government or from shareholders, but cited one of NTV's founders, Igor Malashenko, as saying that a shareholder can interfere in editorial matters only if a certain program is consistently losing money.
Kulistikov, who left NTV last October to head the government-owned RIA news agency, said NTV had the country's best team of aggressive reporters but had "turned into something like a law firm, political party, public movement, etc., etc." Now the reporters, including Kiselyov, have a chance to "return to their immediate duties."
Jordan and Kulistikov said they understand the bitter feelings of NTV reporters but said they planned to come to work on Wednesday and hoped to convince journalists of their good intentions. They pledged not to use special troops to force themselves into the NTV offices.
"A television company is not a factory," Jordan said.
One reporter at the press conference likened Kokh, Jordan and Kulistikov to the GKChP leaders, who also held a press conference in 1991 during the attempted coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. But her question about Gazprom's failure to improve finances at its other media companies remained unanswered.
The NTV coup was surrounded by a number of contradictory court decisions suggesting that courts in Moscow and Saratov, which first banned Tuesday's shareholders meeting and then reversed their decisions, had come under pressure from Media-MOST's foes.
Kiselyov arrived Tuesday at Gazprom offices to present a ruling by a Saratov court banning the meeting only to see a paper signed by the same judge backing out from his decision. NTV reported Tuesday that the judge could not be contacted afterward. NTV said it turned to the court in Saratov because Gazprom had previously turned to municipal courts in Moscow for whom the battle between NTV and Gazprom was outside their immediate jurisdiction.
Although the outdoor press conference at Ostankino was announced on NTV television in an apparent bid to attract people other than reporters, only about 60 people gathered to cheer NTV outside Ostankino's metal fence while an international crowd of more than 100 reporters mobbed bitter NTV journalists inside the fence.
Perhaps the most emotional but thoughtful statement came from reporter Boris Koltsov, who said that NTV "stands on the verge of either a liquidation or a split."
"We are now witnessing how NTV is turning into something different: either an NTV with different people or a non-NTV," Koltsov said. He said sadly that the "Czech option" would not work in Russia because masses of people would not come out in support of NTV journalists. Earlier this year, employees of Czech state television went on strike to protest the appointment of a new head. The government backed out after thousands of people protested day after day in central Prague.
"It is very unpleasant to feel that you are a product of a settling of criminal accounts taking place, albeit at the very top level," Koltsov said.
n Some Internet sites reported Tuesday that Boris Jordan is also in the process of acquiring Independent Media, the parent company of The Moscow Times.
Independent Media CEO Derk Sauer flatly denied the reports. "Once and for all, Independent Media is not for sale," he said.
It was announced late last year that Dutch company VNU, which holds a 35 percent stake in Independent Media, is selling its magazine and Internet holdings around the world, not just in Russia, to concentrate on a different business. Sauer said that he has the right to buy out the stake and will exercise this right if the VNU buyer is not satisfactory for Independent Media. But Sauer said he will not need to turn to Jordan for investment despite their good relations.
"The problem in this town is that if you have a conversation with a person, the next day you read in the press that your company is for sale," he said.
The original at http://www.themoscowtimes.com/stories/2001/04/04/001.html