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Independent Russian Reporters Get Control of Station

July 31, 2001|ROBYN DIXON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Exiled Russian businessman Boris A. Berezovsky announced Monday that he is handing control of his TV6 station to a group of journalists known for their critical approach to the authorities.

The journalists had been key figures at NTV, flagship station of the Media-Most empire, which had rankled the Kremlin with its reporting. Media-Most owner Vladimir A. Gusinsky was forced to flee Russia last summer after authorities filed fraud charges against him.

NTV was taken over by the state-controlled gas company in April in what many analysts and journalists called a black day for media freedom in Russia.

But the former NTV journalists, including anchor and former Director General Yevgeny Kiselyov, now have reached a deal with Berezovsky giving them day-to-day control over TV6.

"Not long ago, the TV6 shareholders transferred the management of the company to the most professional Media-Most team," Berezovsky announced in Paris. "This decision has been made and legally documented and is being implemented."

Kiselyov and a hard core of NTV journalists moved over to Berezovsky's TV6 after the gas company, Gazprom, took over NTV. Kiselyov was appointed director general of TV6, and the former NTV team continued with its critical approach to the news.

But under that arrangement, Berezovsky had the power to second-guess decisions of Kiselyov and his management team.

Tatyana Blinova, spokeswoman for TV6, said the new deal gave the former NTV team full independence to run the station without interference from Berezovsky.

Comparing the positions before and after the deal, Blinova said, "The main difference is when a person is entitled to make decisions but knows that they can be revoked any minute, or when you are in charge of the company and you do not have to look back at anyone."

Berezovsky retains his 75% controlling share of TV6.

Since NTV was taken over by Gazprom, its news coverage has become tamer.

Meanwhile, the former NTV journalists who switched to TV6 have retained their critical edge, particularly in reporting on Russia's conflict against separatist fighters in Chechnya.

For example, TV6 broke a story about Chechen refugees staging a hunger strike to protest Russia's "mopping-up" operations in Chechen villages, where men are seized and often disappear. Other stations followed the story later.

NTV's director, U.S. businessman Boris Jordan, has vowed that the station will take an independent line. He says he will resign at the first sign of political interference.

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