Sunday, April 15, 2001
Moscow The Kremlin-connected gas giant Gazprom took control of Russia's lone independent nationwide television network Saturday, tossing out resistant journalists and installing a new, pliant team during a nighttime takeover.
Anchors and other employees exiled from NTV ï¿½ taking with them cameras, equipment and even their portraits off the walls ï¿½ scrambled to broadcast from a smaller station and denounced the takeover as a Kremlin attempt to silence a station that has been critical of President Vladimir Putin.
The move on the station ended a two-week standoff over NTV ï¿½ the only nationwide network not controlled by the state ï¿½ in which rebel journalists refused to recognize the Gazprom-appointed management, led by American financier Boris Jordan.
Before dawn, NTV security staff were ordered to leave and were replaced, and soon Jordan moved into the offices of the ousted general-director, Yevgeny Kiselyov. At 8:06 a.m., anchor Andrei Norkin was cut off in mid-sentence during a broadcast ï¿½ and by the 10 a.m. newscast, an anchor loyal to Gazprom was on the air.
"To me personally, one of the people who built NTV, it's a betrayal by insolent, cynical, cowardly people," said Kiselyov, who rushed back from Spain. "They've ruined NTV, which was my home."
Kiselyov later told a meeting of hundreds of dissident NTV employees that he had accepted an offer to become acting general director of TV6, an independent channel with a smaller reach. But he said he would take a permanent position only if guaranteed the "full creative, editorial and financial independence of the station."
Liberal lawmakers denounced the takeover of NTV, fearing it will now be turned into a version of Russia's other two state-controlled networks, RTR and ORT. "It was a true coup," said Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko political movement.
Jordan, named by Gazprom to run NTV in a controversial shareholders' meeting two weeks ago, insisted the gas company intended only to shape up NTV's finances, not change its content.