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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Officials Deny 'Sell-Out' of NTV to Gazprom

The chief executives of the state gas monopoly Gazprom and NTV Independent Television have explained a deal under which Gazprom will buy 30 percent of NTV as part of a satellite broadcasting joint venture, ducking charges the deal was a sell-out by NTV to the government.

NTV president Igor Malashenko, speaking at a joint press conference Tuesday with Gazprom president Ryem Vyakhirev, said the point of the deal was to help NTV develop a satellite pay TV network capable of broadcasting five channels across Russia.

Malashenko said the deal had nothing to do with editorial policy. "Our viewers judge the merits of the NTV company by what they see on the screen, and nothing else," he said in response to charges that NTV was being bought by the government in the lead-up to the Jun 16 elections.

"The most dependent mass media are those who have to beg for grants and subsidies," he said.

Vyakhirev said Gazprom has not "tampered" with NTV's editorial policy but he added that Gazprom was hoping to use its shareholding to push its agenda.

"[Gazprom] has been persistently pilloried [by the press] on various issues," Vyakhirev told journalists. "And since we have over a million shareholders, and we need to talk to them, we're looking for ways to communicate, including television."

Vyakhirev said this is Gazprom's first investment in the media, although he said the gas monopoly "steps in from time to time as sponsors" for a number of press publications.

Vyakhirev and NTV officials declined to give the size of investment under the deal.

Vladimir Gusinsky, president of MOST group, the other main shareholder in NTV, said the investment from Gazprom would finance NTV Plus, a regular satellite pay television. He did not give any time frame for the project but indicated that it will initially target the Moscow area.

Some analysts have said Gazprom is a natural partner for a satellite television deal since it is building its own satellite network. Gazprom recently announced a joint venture with Loral and Lockheed Martin Corp. of the United States and the Russian rocket industry to launch telecommunication satellites to monitor the company's huge gas pipeline network.

Vyakhirev said however that Gazprom at this stage has not established whether its own satellite program and the pay TV project were compatible.

NTV was founded in 1993 by MOST Group and a few top executives as the country's first independent television station. Until the deal with the 40 percent state-owned Gazprom, it was regarded as the only broadcaster with no ties to the government.

Recently, however, NTVs coverage of the election race has leaned heavily toward Yeltsin, and Malashenko himself has joined Yeltsin's campaign team.

Asked what would happen to NTV if the communists came to power, Malashenko said, "It is going to be shut down by a combination of economic and quasi-legal means," according to Reuters.