THE OUTCOME OF THE NTV CASE: ANOTHER RUSSIAN "THAW" IS OVER

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The sudden and rather crude finale to the NTV scandal has drawn a very emotional response from most journalists and politicians.

Of course, it is no wonder that Saturday morning Viktor Shenderovich came to the Echo of Moscow radio studio and announced that after the “capture of the NTV network another ‘thaw’ has ended in Russia”. However, even Vladimir Pozner, who has always been known for well-balanced assessments, said in his interview with Novaya Gazeta: “I have a painful impression that NTV has been murdered. It was undoubtedly a hostile takeover that had been approved by the authorities.”

Moreover, Pozner, stressing that he is “not very religious”, still noted that it was blasphemous to chose Holy Saturday for the use of force (and it was very foolish as well): “For the second time, there was the same mistake: first they did it to the presidential address, holding the Gazprom meeting of shareholders on the same day. Then, they ‘combined’ their action with the most important Orthodox holiday. I have an impression that these people are running out of time.”

Novaya Gazeta also published a comment from well-known political scientist Lilia Shevtsova, who believes that the “NTV drama” has made it possible to shed some light on the most serious problems in our society.

Shevtsova considers that constant disputes over property in Russia are a consequence of “the way Russian capitalism has been formed”. It is clear that the only civilized way to solve these disputes is through the courta. However, “the situation with NTV showed that there are no independent and competent courts in Russia; there are courts which are ready to carry out any political order”. Thus, Shevtsova concludes that “competent and effective capitalism” is out of the question in Russia.

Besides, the NTV case has also shown the direction in which government is evolving. While former president Boris Yeltsin considered that the existence of “hybrid but balanced opposition” was normal, the current regime prefers “Potemkin villages” to any opposition: “The outer facade is democratic, but the content is all rotten”. So the NTV network apparently still exists, but actually it is just an imitation of the real NTV.

The analyst considers such an approach is a serious mistake by the Kremlin: “Any regime needs a mirror. History shows that every time a ruler tries to concentrate all resources in his own hands, sooner or later this starts working against him.” Nonetheless, Shevtsova believes there are some reasons for cautious optimism: “It is 2001 now, not 1968. The story is not over yet.”

The “Vremya Novostei” paper stresses: “It’s all over. NTV as we know it no longer exists.”

According to the paper, the way “Boris Jordan officially took office as general director” has prompted many questions. For instance, why were some journalists not allowed into the building at first – who determined which journalists would be permitted entry and which would not? Why were the elevators blocked and why did the security at the entrance say that the building was being searched for a bomb? Was it by chance that Jordan’s night raid coincided with Vladimir Putin’s and Mikhail Lesin’s visit to Chechnya; as well as with the absence of Yevgeny Kiselev?

“Vremya Novostei” also published an interview with Vladimir Kulistikov, recently appointed as NTV editorial manager. He tried to explain the reasons for such an unusual form of changing security guards: “It would never have happened if people could negotiate in a civilized way. However, people did not obey the law. They refused to negotiate with us, they made ultimatums and were planning to move to TV-6 with the NTV archives. They wanted to move to TV-6 with all the intellectual property of NTV, and we did not allow that.” Kulistikov said he was convinced that there is still a “fairly strong journalist team at NTV: Mitkova, Khabarov, Grunsky, Kondratiev… We will be searching for new faces, new talent. We will be competing – there are three powerful news teams in Russia – we will see whose news will be more professional, more independent.”

As for forming a “new powerful news team” at TV-6, as Yevgeny Kiselev announced earlier, these plans are doubted by both the TV-6 old-timers and the members of Kiselev’s team.

“Vremya Novostei” quotes “one of the popular journalists who had left the channel”: “I understand that I cannot leave my collective: we are one team; but I can hardly see any prospects for myself on TV-6. Boris Berezovsky and Badri Patarkatsishvili with their multiple promises also add to my doubts.”

Yevgeny Kiselev is also confused with the necessity to use the means and possibilities of Boris Berezovsky. He says: “I understand perfectly well that Berezovsky is a very contradicting person. However, we have no other possibilities, no other more real offers to preserve the team and to give it a chance to work at a channel that has a rather large coverage and audience.”

Meanwhile, as Mikhail Ponomarev, editor-in-chief of the informational broadcasting and a TV-6 newsreader said in his interview with the “Kommersant” paper, “to put it mildly, the statement by Yevgeny Kiselev that he decided to accept the post of acting chief executive at TV-6 after consulting his NTV and TNT colleagues quite perplexed the team at TV-6… The fact that Kiselev does not even mention the staff of the TV-6 channel in speaking about this forced those employees to think about their future.” According to Ponomarev, the current situation at TV-6 does not differ much from the NTV “drama”. According to the comments of the “Kommersant” paper, all this proved the “old suspicion that freedom of speech existed only among the NTV journalists,” since “following the example of the NTV journalists, employees of TV-6 also demanded their opinion to be respected.”

The paper also quotes Eduard Sagalaev, the president of the national television broadcasters association: “TV-6 channel staff are concerned about the possible appointment of Yevgeny Kielev to run their channel. Many of them are quite depressed… In the long run, the employees of the channel will have to make the final decision on whether they should quit; their team is likely to be destroyed, just as the NTV team has been.”

Meanwhile, the “Izvestia” paper suggested that not only NTV journalists would move to TV-6, but a number of the network’s investors would also follow them – in particular, Vladimir Gusinsly. “Izvestia” says: “There is a theory that having invited NTV journalists to TV-6, Boris Berezovsky increases the pre-sale value of his television channel. LukOIL is very likely to become the potential buyer.”

Alexander Arkhangesly, an “Izvestia” observer, considers that the latest events caused a “tectonic, irreversible, and unpredictable shift in the whole area of news broadcasting and the Russian television industry.”

Of course, there will no longer be an NTV as we have known it: “Those who remained at the network, and who will inevitably return there, will be painfully working out new strategies for their television style; and nobody knows the ups and downs that await them on this path.”

The TNT channel will also change: “Having been involved in the zone of political influence and having merged with Gusinsky’s remaining interests and Berezovsky’s increasing appetite, the channel will be unable to maintain its prior amorphism.”

There will be no usual TV-6 either: according to “Izvestia’s” forecast, the journalists of the channel are likely to become the new victims of Boris Berezovsky, who is obviously preparing a new war: “And no one in the West or in Russia will mourn freedom of speech, when the TV-6 journalists are pushed aside from broadcasting for the sake of bringing the new team into the channel, which will be fulfilling the political orders of the new master.” In any case, the statement by Yevgeny Kiselev, on his readiness to “start building a new TV house from the very beginning” proves that he considers TV-6 to be a blank slate: “Even Koch and Jordan never allowed themselves to say this about NTV”.

Further, “Izvestia” continues, there will be a whole chain of changes; it is even possible that “Boris Berezovsky will do what his enemies were dreaming of; and will finally crush Gusinsky in his iron embrace.” In a word, Russian citizens may as well consider that from this Monday they are living in a “new land of television”.

The “Vedomosti” paper suggests that TV-6 “is likely to become a joint political project of the two ‘dissident tycoons’ – Berezovsky and Gusinsky.” According to the paper, that is who the authorities interpret the moving of Kiselev with his team to “Berezovsky’s” channel. The paper quotes a “top official”: “A new political bloc of Berezovsky-Gusinsky has been formed. TV-6 is to be the mouthpiece of this bloc. A right radical opposition is to be established. From no on, Kiselev is also likely to start participation in the Russian politics.”

Things are much more complicated concerning the reaction of western investors. Yevgeny Kiselev stated in his interview with the “Vremya Novostei” paper that all that had happened on April 14 night was a “crude attempt to break the negotiations with Ted Turner.” While according to the “Vedomosti” paper, the recent television upheaval s likely to upset the plans of not only Ted Turner, who had been planning to save the “brainchild of Vladimir Gusinsky”, but also of the German KirchGruppe, which also planned to buy 20% of the TV-6 shares. Leo Kirch, leader of the company, had been interested in TV-6, when neither Berezovsky nor Gusinsky had nothing to do with the channel. As for the NTV network, a source “close to the previous leadership” said it is a “Moscow burnt in a fire”.

However, judging by the fact that informational programs are still being broadcast on both NTV and TNT, where Kiselev’s team moved, it is obvious that NTV had had enough people for two companies. On the other hand, it is clear that, according to Vladimir Kulistikov, “the times of NTV’s great analytical programs are over”. “Vedomosti” also published preliminary lists of the winners and losers of the whole story. According to the paper, Boris Berezovsky is among the former ones: the popularity rating of TV-6 is to inevitably grow: “It is unbearable to watch state television networks; NTV is bloodless, and nobody knows if it would ever recover, while the embittered and excitable Kiselev’s team will be at least able to keep the audience in tension.”

Consequently, according to “Vedomosti”, another winner is the German media-concern Kirch Gruppe: considering the new situation, purchase of the shares of the TV-6 channel may be especially profitable.

Yevgeny Kiselev is also mentioned as a winner: he has proved his popularity with the public and his team. “Vedomosti” stressed that it is especially important for journalists that “Kiselev is invited to other channels not alone but with them”.

As for the others, the paper says, that “there is no principle difference between working for Gusinsky and for Berezovsky.”

According to the paper, Alfred Koch and Boris Jordan are the losers, since they could have achieved some positive results only by means of negotiations, for instance, having offered Kiselev the position of the editor-in-chief.

As a result of such a brutal approach to the situation, both Jordan and Koch received the network without its leading employees, without the sports editor’s office (NTV had never actually possessed any), and without any popular serials. As a result, the price of the television network has sharply fallen and currently “foreign investors may be interested in NTV as in an owner of the meter-diapason broadcaster only”. While the television production is to be build “from the very beginning”.

Apparently, lately many people have had a feeling of “clearing the situation”. For instance, Irina Khakamada, a deputy speaker of the State Duma and a leader of the Union of Right Forces, directly stated in the “Kommersant” paper that “so far the situation proves that over the past decade of the most serious reforms, we, the democrats, have brought the country to the situation when everything should be started from zero again.” Khakamada does not rule out that the pressure on TNT and TV-6 channels will be increased; but she also hopes that proper measures for protection of these channels will be taken. As for NTV, she also hopes that there still are chances “to make NTV an independent network”.

Mikhail Gorbachev, who before the disaster, headed the NTV Public Council, still hopes that Vladimir Putin will finally intervene in the situation. According to him, “I still believe that the president should reveal his opinion; meeting with me, he confirmed that he supports the NTV collective in their intention to solve the dispute with the help of the court.” At the same time, in his interview with “Novaya Gazeta”, Gorbachev admits that neither Gazprom nor the authorities have kept their promise that “everything will be resolved peacefully”. The former president called capture of NTV an “abuse of the law”.

However, as Union of Right Forces faction leader Boris Nemtsov said in the same issue of “Novaya Gazeta”, the president always keeps silent in such cases.

On the eve of “the night of long knives” in Ostankino, “Novoe Vemya” magazine said: “Despite Putin’s ‘great silence’ on NTV, public pressure for him to intervene in this case is increasing daily. However, this silence is the president’s well-tested maneuver.”

During the NTV scandal, the public has been concerned with two issues. First, it has wondered what is more important: property rights or the right to information. Secondly, it has asked whether business freedom is more important than freedom of speech.

During the conflict Alfred Koch mentioned several times the conflicts surrounding the Kachkanar mining enterprise and the Kristall distillery in Moscow. However, these two enterprises differ from NTV in their products. “Novoe Vremya” stresses that NTV produces information, “and this product is not regulated by the law on stock companies.” The magazine says that manners of informing people about the situation in the country are regulated by the society itself and should be protected by the state. “And if an economic argument comes into conflict not with some particular laws but with the Constitution itself, it is not the Constitution that should be abolished in this case.”

Unfortunately, this became clear only after the scandal surrounding the large media holding started.

“Novoe Vremya” says that it is the society that is at a loss eventually. “During the long bargain that the government was concluding with tycoons and tycoons with the government, neither the government not tycoons suffered. It is common citizens who suffered worst of all. According to the journal, both Yevgeny Kiselev and Vladimir Putin should count with this fact.

“Itogi” magazine notes, “Vladimir Putin maintains a heroic silence, as he always does during crises.” “Itogi” says “this issue is probably the last one.”

“Itogi” reports that officials of the Presidential Administration maintain the position that the situation in NTV is an ordinary business conflict, and therefore all their comments are unofficial. Senior officials are just repeating the cliches they started saying a year ago: “There is no threat to freedom of speech. No one intends to shut down any media outlets.”

Meanwhile, as “Itogi” stresses, media outlets are being shut down, like the newspaper “Segodnya”. Some media are reformed, like “Itogi” and NTV. New Editor-in-Chief of NTV Vladimir Kulistikov intends to fill NTV with entertainment and education programs.

The magazine notes that the president seems to believe that economic reforms can be conducted together with restriction of some democratic freedoms. “Itogi” says that the Kremlin want to construct “liberal economy under authoritarian political regime.” The Kremlin has also made up a new slogan: “Capitalism requires casualties.”

“Itogi” notes that there is no mention of freedom of speech in the presidential address to the Federal Assembly. “Putin actually views the freedom to criticize him as a serious obstacle to reforms.”

Putin arranged the attack on the independent media and entrusted his uncouth aids with this campaign. By such actions he spoils his image and the attitude toward Russia of that part of the international community to which he often appeals to invest money in the Russian economy. Moreover, ignoring the society’s indignation at the conflict, Putin makes it clear for prosecutors and other security officials that the president’s declarations are empty words.

Otto Latsis’ article in the newspaper “Novye Izvestia” is entitled “Putin is Doomed: He Has Won.” The prominent journalist says that the government’s victory over NTV reveals the incompetence of the Kremlin team. Latsis stresses that after mass rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg, it was clear that the NTV scandal had become a nationwide problem. The president’s high popularity rating no longer compensates for this crisis. It turns out that the state is able to create problems out of nothing, against a background of political calm and economic growth. And once it generates a problem, the state proves unable to solve it by political methods – and uses force.

In the opinion of Otto Latsis, there is no longer a question of “Who is Mr. Putin?” This question existed because the president’s statements had two diametrically opposed trends: democratic and authoritarian. On the one hand, a liberal reform program was developed under his guidance. On the other hand, Putin is noted for his hostility to any kind of opposition: in the media, in Parliament, in regional governments, etc.

On the morning of April 14, it turned out that these two directions are incompatible. Latsis says that theoretically the president can still save his reputation. “He can’t put pressure on the chief justice of the Supreme Court (since courts are independent in Russia) but he can whisper in the chief justice’s ear to consider this case and rule according to the law.” However, this opportunity is unlikely to be used. To all appearances, the president has already made his choice.

Viktor Shenderovich, the author of the “Puppets” political satire program that used to annoy the Kremlin so much, has drawn a conclusion from the NTV scandal. According to him, “the mine was planted under NTV back in 1996, when Gusinsky started to play political games, like supporting Yeltsin, etc.” Hence the conclusion: “Don’t take money from the government.” The public needs unbiased information. Meanwhile, Russia is still a country without a middle class that could “pay for the truth.” Therefore, it is impossible to create real public television. According to Shenderovich, both oligarchs and the government act like that: “If I pay for a girl’s supper, I will dance with her.”

Vitaly Portnikov, a “Vedomosti” correspondent, says “Russia is almost the only country in Europe where there is no national council for television and radio regulating licensing and issuing broadcasting permits.” We also do not have appropriate laws for public television; neither does the Russian government understand that such television should be neither private not state-run. “Until such public television appears, the citizenry will be seeking to know the truth, and expecting a new quarrel between another tycoon and another president.”

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