Hostile western press coverage over NTV

Much was made in Western Press stories about the recent NTV debacle between the independent TV channel and the Russian authorities, with Cold War slogans about the “Kremlin” and “KGB” splashed across the newspaper pages. The general synthesis is as follows: the former President of the private media firm, Media Most, Vladimir Gusinsky, detained under house arrest in southern Spain on charges of fraud, is unable to intervene as the company formerly belonging to him, NTV, slides into a critical financial position. The Russian State’s main creditor, State-owned Gazprom, assumed a controlling position in NTV through its subsidiary, Gazprom Media. Seeing this as an attempt by the Russian authorities to silence opposition to the government, around 100 employees, including journalists, camera operators and other administrative staff, launched a sit-in in NTV’s installations at Ostankino television complex. There was a much-publicised demonstration on the streets of Moscow last week, reportedly by as many as 25,000 people, in support of the independent t.v. station. It is reported that the Russian authorities became particularly irritated by negative media coverage by NTV regarding the campaign by Russian Federation Military Forces in the campaign in the Republic of Chechnya. Yesterday, the new administration took office and immediately seized the NTV building, interrupting programmes, dismissing and substituting the channel’s private security forces by elite Interior Ministry troops and installing fresh personnel. It is the emphasis given to reports of criticism from various sectors against the new administration, led by Boris Jordan, a US citizen of Russian origin, which gives a true insight into the Western Press stories covering this event. Mikhail Fedotov, President of the Russian Union of Journalists, is quoted as saying: “These events show an extraordinary cynicism by the authorities regarding the law”. He stated that it was the duty of Russian president Vladimir Putin to uphold the freedom of the press. Equally disparaging were the words of ex-Soviet dissident Sergey Kovalev, who is reported to have said : “The KGB is back in power”. As for the reaction from the ousted NTV personnel, ex-NTV Member of the Board Igor Malashenko was quoted : “I view these actions as a repetition of August 1991 (the hard-line coup against ex-President Mikhail Gorbachev). The same kind of people who want unlimited control over the country are behind it”. On the political front, Sergey Yushenkov (opposition, United Right Forces Party), stated : “What happened demonstrates that in Russia, not only the freedom of the press but also the right of law has finished…of the three sacred principles proclaimed in recent years – liberty, property, legality – only one is left, the sacred character of the property rights of those close to the Kremlin”. Less emotional coverage about the official position of President Vladimir Putin and a declaration by the new administration of NTV was reduced and confined to short paragraphs. President Putin’s position was made clear during a meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder recently. “I do not think that I should get involved in this mess and clean up all that has been done wrong over the past year. There’s only one way to solve this, and that is through the courts”. Boris Jordan declared that NTV had entered a new era of independent television news coverage in Russia : “NTV enters a new era. For the first time, we are going to create an independent television station in Russia”. An appeal by the NTV journalists against the take-over is scheduled for April 25th but it is also reported that Gazprom could force NTV out of business if it calls in the 200-250 million USD it owes.


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