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Gazeta.ru, June 2, 2004

The TV Might as Well Stay Switched off

By Ilya Zhegulyov

NTV's move to sack Leonid Parfyonov and close his flagship weekly Namedni review program is politically motivated, Russian politicians, political observers and human rights champions are convinced. Some of them interviewed by Gazeta.Ru believe that with Parfyonov's departure the NTV team of journalists is likely to fall apart.

Irina Khakamada, former co-leader of the liberal Union of the Right-Wing Forces, founder of the new Free Russia party:

Of course, [by firing Parfyonov] the station has got rid of a disagreeable, yet talented journalist. Since the channel wanted high ratings Parfyonov used to get away with being disagreeable. But the conflict brought about by the channel management's decision move to cancel a piece on Yandarbiyev's widow and a piece on Putin's state of the nation address prompted Parfyonov to openly protest.

For the time being, it has led to Parfyonov's resignation. But I feel that a general tendency will prevail and everyone should understand that. We have such a system in the making anyone ready to push too hard will disappear more quickly. Just as they danced on the bones of the democrats, of the old NTV, TV6 and TVS channels, the authorities will soon dispose of the few freethinking journalists who still work at NTV and the Ekho Moskvi radio station.

Those who oppose that pressure can do very little other than continue the fight or leave the country. If we give up fighting we will all go. Clearly, the authorities have forced everyone to toe the line. Parfyonov, for his part, was not just a presenter, he was the deputy news editor and together with Tatiana Mitkova he produced the Strana I Mir (The Country and the Wold) nightly news program.With his dismissal the channel will lose the concept and traditions that have been there since the days of the old NTV.

I am not sure that Tatiana [Mitkova] will cope alone. I don't think anyone can cope alone, and the team will most likely fall apart. And what we will get is just another state-run television channel, which is very sad.

Mark Urnov, political scientist:

Parfyonov's dismissal is partially a result of censorial pressure and partially an internal conflict over influence at the station. Relations at NTV were quite complicated.

When the management asks Parfyonov not to publish the piece and he complies, but then the material appears in other media outlets, that amounts to a clear conflict for influence and for one's position, no matter how the parties portray it. It is the easiest thing to say that this amounts to administrative pressure of a censorial nature.

In itself, the row over the coverage of such a sensitive foreign affairs issue as the Yandarbiyev case does not speak for anything. Parfyonov may have his own opinion on the trial. While the trial is still going on, everyone is very careful. That is why this particular case is unlikely to set a precedent.

It is clear that these developments are very bad for the channel. When one of the two political programs is closed, that kills the channel. The loss of the information reported in Namedni is a great loss for television as a whole.

Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy chairman of the Yabloko party:

This amounts to a vivid manifestation of political censorship, so-called punitive censorship. This puts an end to the dispute on whether media freedoms exist in Russia. Henceforth, it will no longer be easy for NTV to feign independence, while for the authorities it will be hard to feign that they guarantee media freedoms in Russia.

Following this case things will only get worse. Mostly, that will lead to a toughening of internal censorship in various media outlets, both on television and radio stations and in printed media.

At the same time one should not expect any abrupt actions from the authorities; they are unlikely to take a particular stand on the issue. Everything will be done by the top managers at the media outlets themselves, and more or less independent journalists will have to work in increasingly difficult conditions.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva, prominent human rights activist, chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group:

What we see today is that there are labor disputes, but those disputes concern the liberal-minded programs and editions. Has anyone ever heard of any labor disputes at the Zavtra newspaper? Nothing of the kind.

To begin with they closed Pyotr Tosltoi's Vyvody program on the third channel. Aleksander Puhskov and his weekly show with anti-Western tinge remains. When asked why Vyvody was cancelled, they said it was not profitable. That is, a pro-democratic program does not make a profit, but a nationalist one does. And Namedni was closed in the same manner.

Now that Parfyonov has gone our TV sets might as well remain switched off. What is there left worth watching? Maybe, Vladimir Pozner's [Vremena] program at ORT? Or Savik Shuster's [Svoboda Slova] show, where Zhirinovsky features more often than decent people?

State Duma deputies mourn Namedni, but its speaker prefers Vremya Most State Duma deputies interviewed by the Interfax news agency said they were sorry to see Leonid Parfyonov leave NTV and his Namedni show cancelled. The only exception was the chairman of the lower house Boris Gryzlov, who said he had always preferred ORT's Vremya to Namedni. "As to Parfyonov's program proper, I watch the Vremya program that runs at the same time on Sundays," he told journalists.

Gryzlov does not believe Parfyonov's dismissal was a consequence of censorship: "NTV is a privately-owed channel and there is a body which, in line with the civil code, is authorized to make decisions in a privately owned company."

Unlike her boss, first deputy speaker Lyubov Sliska liked watching Parfyonov's program. "Nobody denies that the Namedni program was sharp and interesting and NTV is considered a very free channel in our country but one must respect the management of one's company. A boss is a boss," Sliska said.

Deputy and journalist Aleksandr Khinshtein was the only one of the United Russia faction who spoke of political motives in the NTV row. "The freedom of the press cannot be forced to conform to a military charter. One may like or dislike Parfyonov, but one cannot deny that his program was one of the most professional programs on television and its closure will deal a tangible blow to the Kremlin's reputation," he said.

Members of the opposition parties represented in the State Duma were unanimous in their evaluation of the latest events at NTV as a form of censorship. "The decision of the NTV management clearly was made under pressure from the Kremlin, which continues the course for establishing dictatorship not only in the state-owned mass media but also in those that are more or less independent," said deputy chairman of the Communist Party's Central Committee Ivan Melnikov.

Motherland's Sergei Baburin added: "Parfyonov's dismissal is a political action, which proves that controls are becoming tighter. Observers, who have a special opinion, are being pushed as far as possible from television and radio audiences. I am very disappointed with what the state structures are doing to television and radio. That is dangerous for the public."


See also:

Freedom of Speech and Media Law in Russia

Gazeta.ru, June 2, 2004

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