WASHINGTON — A breakthrough Russian TV station is seeking U.S. advertisers to sponsor news programming free of the state control that's still around in post-communist Russia.
NTV features some of the nation's top professional broadcast journalists who left their previous anchor and reporting jobs because of government interference, NTV President Igor Malashenko said Friday.
"News is our profession," is the NTV motto. It is boldly emblazoned on a slick-looking, if awkwardly-phrased English brochure that Malashenko brought to Washington where he was seeking to drum up support.
He also stopped in Miami to buy films for broadcast on NTV, and was heading to New York to visit ad agencies in search of U.S. sponsors to buy commercial time on the station.
NTV, leasing studio space and offices from the Ostankino Broadcasting Company, Russia's largest TV network, advertises itself as Russia's only independent network, financed by three Russian banks that have pledged $32 million in the network's first 15 months.
Since premiering in October, NTV's two nightly news shows have risen to the top of the ratings.
Speaking of the reform government that has replaced the old Soviet system, he said, "They perceive themselves as being democrats, but for them it means, OK, the media should support them."
Still, he notes that things have improved.
NTV's news staff of about 200 includes personalities who had already achieved renown on other stations.
"The American equivalent would be if 'Nightline' and 'MacNeil-Lehrer' and Connie Chung and Peter Jennings" all got together to form a news team, said Allen Weinstein, president of the nonprofit Center for Democracy, which was helping Malashenko get attention in Washington.
NTV's staff features journalists such as Tatyana Mitkova, whose fame was assured after she refused to read the official version of the Soviet military response to the 1991 breakaway uprising in Lithuania.
Malashenko left his job as the No. 2 executive at Russia's largest TV station a year ago after a new politically appointed chairman arrived. Interviews with bureaucrats and politicians were forced on the news operation and "news was distorted," Malashenko said.
Malashenko believes that the state-controlled TV actually helped increase popular support for ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky in the recent elections even while criticizing him.
"By trying to undermine him, they create an enormous publicity," he said.