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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NTV Host Fired for Insulting Lukashenko

Last year, NTV television stood firmly by its Minsk correspondent Alexander Stupnikov, who was expelled by Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko for reporting on anti-government protests.

But the channel last week fired Andrei Cherkizov, the host of a morning chat show, for repeatedly insulting the Belarussian leader on air.

NTV spokeswoman Tatyana Blinova said Monday that Cherkizov's program, "Chas Byka," or "Bull's Hour," was taken off the air because he had describe d Lukashenko in terms that were "beyond permissible bounds and in violation of journalistic ethics."

Cherkizov, who has retained his other job as a commentator on the Ekho Moskvy radio station, which like NTV is part of Vladimir Gusinsky's MOST media empire, was unrepentant this week. "I don't know what bounds they are talking about," Cherkizov said in an interview. "I said the least of what Lukashenko deserves."

In his broadcast Monday morning last week, Cherkizov called Lukashenko a "kham" and a "pridurochny bolvan," two colloquial but not obscene expressions that translate roughly as "boor" and "foolish blockhead."

Belarus immediately protested and demanded an apology from NTV. Cherkizov said Belarus backed up its complaints with a threat to close the television company's Minsk bureau and interrupt the company's broadcasting in the country. Russian television stations broadcast to Belarus where most of the population speaks Russian.

Tatyana Mitkova, the anchor of the evening news program, apologized to Lukashenko and the Belarussian people on air on behalf of NTV on Monday evening.

Cherkizov was also asked to make his own apologies Tuesday morning, but instea he only exacerbated the conflict by reading the 19th-century Russian dictionary definitions of the words he used and calling Lukashenko a "pig."

The NTV had to apologize again and scrapped Cherkizov's show. Blinova described Cherkizov as a "boorish man for whom it has become a matter of principle."

Cherkizov said he did not hold anything against NTV, which, he said was forced to sack him to maintain good relations with Belarus where the channel has expansion plans and maintains a bureau.

But he was unrepentant. "I believe that a journalist has the right to call a spade a spade," he said.

Cherkizov, 44, is well known for his outspoken and tendentious comments. In 1993, Cherkizov survived only six months as head of the government copyright agency. He was dismissed after then Prosecutor General Valery Stepankov filed slander charges against him for comments he made on Ekho Moskvy.

Cherkizov is also one of the few public figures in Russia who has publicly said he is homosexual. Blinova said that was not a factor in his dismissal.

While a vague union treaty between Russia and Belarus was signed last year, Russian television companies were extremely critical of Lukashenko, who they portrayed as a tyrant.

Lukashenko responded by expelling NTV journalists from Belarus for their reporting on anti-government protests and also by bringing criminal charges against ORT journalists for their reports on breaches of an agreement with Russia on a customs union.

But the heads of Russia's major television companies flew to Minsk earlier this year for a private meeting with Lukashenko to improve their relations.

Blinova said NTV continued to attack Lukashenko where appropriate. "We often criticize President Lukashenko's policies in our programs," Blinova said. "But there is a big difference between criticism and direct insults."