Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Private TV Challenges State News Monopoly

About 150 journalists, including some of Russia's most prominent, are leaving state television to form their own private media company in a move that could revolutionize the country's news broadcasting, the director of the new station said Tuesday.

The group, which includes the former director of Ostankino television, the host of the news program Itogi and other well known broadcasters, will produce up to two hours of news and cultural programming nightly starting in October.

The breakaway company is to be called NTV and would be the first aimed at establishing nationwide competition for state television's news coverage.

"People are fed up with state TV, it's very simple", said Igor Malashenko, 38, Ostankino's former director who is now general director of NTV. "They want an opportunity to do professional work".

The group is being financed by the Most Group, the same private firm that wooed top journalists from the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta to start a rival daily, Segodnya, in February. One source said the honey that catches the flies at NTV is a salary scale reaching $1, 000 to $1, 500 monthly, astronomical figures by the standards of Russian journalism.

Russian state television, on the other hand, is racked by financial hardships, a problem mentioned by virtually every speaker at a symposium on the media last Thursday that was attended by President Boris Yeltsin.

The typical salary at Ostankino is 100, 000 rubles ($100) per month, according to state TV officials.

The content of state television has also become a political football between Russia's feuding parliament and president. Opponents have called parliament's attempts to set up monitoring committees over state television akin to a "Ministry of Propaganda".

As with private stations in the West, NTV will fund itself by selling advertising, including a total of five minutes of commercials spread midway and at the end of its 30-minute news broadcast, Malashenko said.

Although other private television companies have gone on air in the last two years, they concentrate mainly on entertainment rather than news as NTV plans to do.

"I do really believe that commercial TV can pay off in Russia if you have an investment to survive the initial period, and we have this investment", said Malashenko.

Without naming figures, he called the investment "very substantial by Russian standards".

A spokesman for Ostankino, the successor to the Soviet Union's monopoly broadcaster, said it was unlikely that large numbers of journalists would leave, and he expected the channel's dominance to continue even if a new rival emerges.

"To suppose that highly qualified professionals would leave the first channel and its millions of viewers for an unknown project is not logical", said Ilya Kuzmenkov. "If one or two people leave, it is a normal process".

Malashenko responded that "non-biased, non-partisan professional information on state-controlled TV is dead".

According to Malashenko, among the journalists abandoning Ostankino's state television ship are Yevgeny Kiselyov, 37, the mustachioed anchor of the Sunday night Itogi, credited with presenting Russia's most insightful news program and Tatyana Mitkova, 35, a popular anchor for the evening news program Novosti. Mitkova made news by refusing to read the official version of events when Soviet forces killed demonstrators in Lithuania in January 1991.

Asked about these departures, Ostankino spokesman Kuzmenkov said even a noted journalist such as Kiselyov could be replaced without losing viewers.

In addition to news, NTV plans to air Western movies and shows, Malashenko said. The programing will be broadcast over an existing Russian channel during leased air time.

Sergei Karatayev, director of international programing for St. Petersburg television - Channel Five said the station director was traveling to Moscow on Thursday to conclude negotiations with NTV to use Channel Five's airwaves. A deal is expected by the end of August, he said.