NTV fired star journalist Leonid Parfyonov in a dramatic decision that
his colleagues and media experts decried Wednesday as the latest setback
to press freedom.
Sergey Ponomarev / AP
Parfyonov's "Namedni" came
in first in a recent city poll of social-political shows.
Parfyonov was fired for breaking his contract, which required him to
"support the policies of the company's leadership," according
statement signed by NTV general director Nikolai Senkevich.
His weekly current affairs program "Namedni," one of the
top-rated shows, was canceled.
Parfyonov unleashed a public scandal by releasing to Kommersant an
internal memo ordering him to cut an interview with the widow of a slain
Chechen separatist leader, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, from his show's broadcast
last Sunday because it could negatively influence the ongoing trial of
Russians charged with the murder.
The show went ahead without the five-minute segment, but Parfyonov
said the decision forcing him to drop it amounted to censorship.
And, he added bitingly in an interview given to Izvestia after that
decision but before he was fired, "I do not need to be taught to
Some of the debate Wednesday swirled around whether Parfyonov had
forced NTV's hand by going public, but Parfyonov told Ekho Moskvy that
contract only barred him from giving interviews to competitors, and whether
or not his comments to Kommersant can be construed as such is unclear.
"I was expecting it sooner or later," Parfyonov told The
Press. "Everything was leading up to it."
What complicates the picture further is that, in Senkevich's absence,
the contentious memo was issued by Alexander Gerasimov, who, in addition
his position as deputy general manager for political and information
programming, hosts a current affairs show of his own, called "Lichny
which rivals "Namedni."
Savik Shuster, host of the NTV talk show "Svoboda Slova"
the only independent voice left at the station, called Parfyonov's ouster
"an enormous loss for the channel," The Washington Post reported.
But he said Parfyonov has served as a "whistleblower" in
a way that
might help. "Now -- at least for a short period -- I don't think
threaten my program,'' Shuster was quoted as saying.
Among Moscow viewers, "Namedni" was the top social-political
for the last week in May, according to TNS Gallup Media ratings published
Tuesday in Kommersant. The week before, it came in second to Channel One's
weekly news wrap-up, "Vremya."
Taken overall, it was NTV's most popular program together with a
series about the life of single women, "Balzakovsky Vozrast."
Such high market share means high advertising revenues, which NTV has
now jeopardized along with its reputation, said Yasen Zasursky, the dean
Moscow State University's journalism faculty.
"It's a bad day for Russian television," he said, calling
proof of NTV's infamously bad management.
He added that NTV's decision to sacrifice its best asset over a minor
dispute damages its claim to being an independent channel.
Alexander Khinshtein, a United Russia State Duma deputy and a
journalist, acknowledged that there would be "noticeable damage"
Kremlin's reputation as well, since it is perceived as being behind all
negative events in the media, according the web site Newsru.com.
The decision to fire Parfyonov was announced at 11 p.m. Tuesday night.
But many of the journalists who worked for him on "Namedni"
and "Strana i
Mir," a late-night news program he launched as a training ground
proteges, only learned the news from reporters seeking their comment.
Where the newly unemployed Parfyonov will land is not clear. He
demurred every time he was asked of his future plans Wednesday, saying
planned simply to rest.
As for what will become of "Strana i Mir," he told Interfax
"beyond my control now."
Mikhail Seslavinsky, the head of the Federal Press Agency, met with
Parfyonov on Wednesday evening and told Interfax afterward that "if
his agency could offer financial grants to help Parfyonov develop new
projects because such a talented journalist "should not be lost."
NTV journalist Pavel Lobkov, who worked for "Namedni," played
chances of a walk-out similar to the one led by Yevgeny Kiselyov when
private station was acquired by Gazprom-Media, a company partly owned
"Leonid was always opposed to any kind of mass actions and believed
that such issues aren't resolved on public squares," he was quoted
Interfax as saying.
In his statement, Senkevich called Parfyonov "unconditionally
the most talented journalists working in contemporary Russian television."
But, he said, "this incident was not the first."
Parfyonov's relationship with station management had been rocky since
Senkevich was brought in last spring to replace Boris Jordan, with whom
Parfyonov had worked closely.
Shortly after Senkevich was installed, Parfyonov and his show took
extended leave of absence in February 2003, with "Namedni" producer
Kartoziya explaining that they could not "guarantee the quality of
Things were smoothed over, and "Namedni" returned to the
months later, in May.
In November, though, its journalists knocked heads again over a
decision by Senkevich to yank a "Namedni" segment on Yelena
journalist whose account of a meeting with President Vladimir Putin he
judged to be "vulgar."
Parfyonov, 44, had worked at NTV since 1993, making a reputation for
having an ironic tone and, in contrast to Kiselyov, being apolitical.
Despite their differences, Kiselyov said Wednesday that he was pained
by Parfyonov's dismissal. "Regardless of however difficult relations
us may have been, everyone loses from the loss of Parfyonov and 'Namedni,'"
he told Ekho Moskvy.
Ekho Moskvy's television observer, Yelena Afanasyeva, said press
freedom had not disappeared, though the trend was in that direction.
"NTV still has space to, say, not open the news program with Putin's
meeting some minister and instead be the first to show footage of a
terrorist explosion in Grozny," she said. "But that space is
Yelena Savina, a producer for NTV's evening news program "Segodnya,"
framed the firing even more starkly.
"The Kremlin never trusted Parfyonov. We, as newspeople, understand
that this serious attack is a warning for us. I see this as the first
in a pre-planned campaign," she told Newsru.com.
the original at
Freedom of Speech
and Media Law in Russia