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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Listyev Killing Linked to TV Shakeup

As Russia reeled Thursday from shock at the murder of popular television journalist Vladislav Listyev, most theories on his killing focused on changes the new director of Russia's state-run television planned, especially in control of lucrative advertising revenue.

Listyev, a television presenter whose popular shows and documentaries had made him a household name across the country, was killed by an unknown assailant in front of his apartment Wednesday night. It was exactly one month before he had been scheduled to become head of Russian Public Television, a completely new structure that was scheduled to replace the state-financed, state-run Ostankino.

The changeover involved a complete reorganization of Ostankino, and Listyev's plans -- most details of which he kept to himself -- appeared to allow for the possible loss of millions of dollars in television advertising revenues, which was allegedly being skimmed off through corruption.

"Listyev's murder was a challenge, a threat, to anyone who wanted to change things at Ostankino, to those who wanted to make things better," said Igor Podzigun, director of the advertising and commercial department at Ostankino Television.

"We blocked someone's path," said Alexander Yakovlev, the current chairman of Ostankino television.

There are no suspects, but a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Alexei Petrenko, said Thursday that it was a professional assassination.

"No one doubts that it was a contract killing," he said.

Television journalist Yevgeny Kiselyov, presenter of Independent Television's "Itogi" news program, said Thursday night that police had put together a composite photograph of the killer, based on accounts from six eyewitnesses, Interfax reported.

There was no immediate word from the Kremlin on any potential successor to Listyev.

While the murder has shaken the whole country as few events in recent memory, the question of who exactly ordered the hit remains the subject of speculation "Those who want to seize power in the country, taking advantage of the general crisis, are the ones responsible for Listyev's murder," said Sergei Gryzunov, head of the State Press Committee, in an interview with Itar-Tass. He too added that Listyev's planned financial reorganization of Ostankino likely lay at the roots of the killing.

The new director had said very little about his plans for the new station. According to Podzigun, right up until Listyev's death no one knew which structures at Ostankino would be retained and which would be dissolved.

The fate of Ostankino's programming was also murky -- a number of programs would probably disappear, while new ones would be developed.

"Only one person had a clear idea of what the new schedule would look like," said Podzigun, "and that man was Vlad Listyev."

Perhaps most importantly, the future of advertising in Russian Public television was unclear. On Feb. 20, Ostankino announced a temporary ban on all advertising for the new company.

"He needed time, a sort of quarantine," said Podzigun of the advertising moratorium. "He had to work out a strategy."

But while Listyev developed a new philosophy for commercial advertising in his company, the struggle for survival was fierce among the Ostankino collective.

The stakes were high, in excess of 35 billion rubles ($7.7 million) per month.

Ostankino executives acknowledge that the advertising business was rife with corruption. There was virtually no control over advertising funds -- Ostankino's complicated structure made oversight impossible. Shows were produced by various studios within the company, and each studio had responsibility for selling advertising time for its own shows.

In July, the company created a separate structure, Reklama-Kholding, which imposed a unified control over advertising. And revenues jumped immediately -- from 5 billion rubles per month to 35 billion, according to Yakovlev.

What had been happening to the 30 billion rubles before Reklama-Kholding took over?

"Someone was putting the difference in his pocket," Yakovlev told Itar-Tass Thursday.

Podzigun acknowledges that corruption was rampant, because too many people were involved in cutting up the advertising pie.

"But in six months we established order," he said.

Lidiya Cheryomushkina, executive director of the ViD studio, which Listyev headed before his appointment to the directorship, said that Listyev knew that his decision to temporarily ban advertising would be controversial and would subject him to a great amount of pressure.

"He knew that making such an announcement was risky," she said in a telephone interview Thursday. "He felt that it could end badly."

Cheryomushkina said that the decision had been made to keep advertising off the air for five months, to break the circle of corruption.

"He knew that it was impossible to fight corruption," she said. "He just had to cut it off."

While journalists struggled to come to grips with the murder, politicians acted to apportion blame.

Boris Zolotukhin, deputy chairman of the Russia's Choice faction in the State Duma, issued a statement calling for the resignation of Interior Minister Viktor Yerin, head of the Federal Counterintelligence Service Sergei Stepashin and Alexei Ilyushenko, acting public prosecutor.

Viktor Ilyukhin, chairman of the Duma's Security Committee and a member of the opposition Communist Party, placed the blame for the killing squarely on the government: "The murder is a sign that we have two civil wars going on in the country. One is open, in Chechnya, and one is hidden, right here."

Ilyukhin called for the resignation of Yerin, who "has waged such an ineffective battle with organized crime."

But Ilyukhin did not hesitate to identify a wider target for his ire: "Organized crime has enormous financial might in its hands. And this financial might is one of the supports of the executive branch. The only way out is a total change in the government, a complete change of course."

--Pyotr Yudin contributed to this article