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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Seeks To Limit Ownership In ORT

Fearing that financier Boris Berezovsky is negotiating a sale of a stake in ORT television to U.S.-based media magnate Rupert Murdoch, the State Duma is drafting a law that would ban the sale of ORT shares to foreigners.

If the bill, which is expected to be discussed Wednesday, becomes law, the Russian government would not be able to sell any part of its 51 percent stake in ORT without the approval of the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, bill sponsor Deputy Gennady Volkov said Monday.

ORT's privately owned 49 percent of shares could trade hands within the country, but any sale to foreigners would be prohibited, he said.

The bill would also prevent the formation of an advertising agency with foreign capital f a plan that ORT and Murdoch announced in December.

ORT is watched in 98 percent of Russian homes and is viewed as key political instrument in the upcoming electoral campaigns. But the company is on the verge of bankruptcy. Last week the Moscow Arbitration Court appointed an outside manager to oversee the company's operations until bankruptcy hearings scheduled for April.

In late December, ORT announced an alliance with Berezovsky's LogoVAZ car dealership, TV 6 and Murdoch's News Corp. to form an advertising agency, taking the business over from Sergei Lisovsky's Premier SV. More details were promised by January, but have not yet been revealed. According to ORT, former staff from Premier SV f and now employed by ORT f are selling the airtime.

At the same time, the government has agreed to provide a $100 million loan to ORT, using its shares f both public and private f as collateral.

Negotiations between ORT and Murdoch's News Corp. have been shrouded in mystery, feeding many rumors in Moscow's media circles and speculations in Russian newspapers.

Last year, Murdoch announced a partnership with Berezovsky in the Russian telecommunications market, when News Corp. said it planned to purchase a 38 percent share in PLD, a Russia-based telecommunications provider, from London-based company Cable & Wireless and immediately to sell half of the portfolio to Berezovsky's LogoVAZ. Late last year, News Corp. and LogoVAZ launched a joint FM radio station in Moscow, Nashe Radio.

Both sides declined to comment on the television deal Monday. Berezovsky's spokesman said he could only confirm that negotiations with Murdoch were under way.

While Russian commentators are convinced Murdoch was going to buy a stake in ORT, one prominent U.S. analyst of Russian television cast doubt Monday on the feasibility of such deal. Duke University professor Ellen Mickiewicz, an author of a number of books on Soviet and Russian TV, said in a telephone interview from North Carolina that Russian commentators overstate Murdoch's desire to invest when debt-burdened ORT is, on one hand, dependent on the state and on the other hand, dependent on an unclear mix of private shareholders with the Duma looming with its legislative control.