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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Latest Twist In NTV Tale Is Troubling

Each twist in the unfolding Media-MOST saga is more disturbing than the last it seems. The latest episode — in which the prosecutor's office unethically released to state-controlled television a list of journalists who had been given loans by Media-MOST owner Vladimir Gusinsky that had been seized as evidence during recent raids at MOST headquarters — is certainly no exception.

Over the weekend we were treated to the disgusting spectacle of prosecutors and ORT journalists doing a tag-team smear job on NTV over the list, a spectacle we fear is just a taste of things to come if this country returns to total Kremlin control over the airwaves.

And we were not comforted by Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov's claim he "regretted" the list's release. His regret was not accompanied by an acknowledgement that it was an unacceptable and unprofessional Soviet-style tactic. Nor did he immediately dismiss those in his office who participated.

Nor can we find even a morsel of solace in the remarks of President Vladimir Putin during his meeting with NTV journalists on Monday. Our can-do president threw up his hands and said he thought the prosecutor's actions were "excessive" but that he couldn't do anything about it because — and this is the good bit — Russia's prosecutor is "independent." No doubt this independence was underscored when Ustinov emerged from Putin's office and bumped into the NTV delegation as they arrived to meet the president.

Sadly, the prosecutor is not independent, as Ustinov's predecessor, Yury Skuratov (himself a victim of state-controlled media), will attest.

The president, with approval from the Federation Council, can dismiss the prosecutor general. And, in this case, he should.

Ironically, there doesn't seem to be anything seriously wrong with the loans in the first place. On the contrary, in a developing economy such as Russia's, giving no-interest mortgages seems like a civilized way of helping one's employees. Many Western and Russian companies have similar plans.

The State Duma's Audit Chamber last Friday issued a report slamming Gazprom — the company now poised to swallow up Media-MOST — for its irresponsible loans. The chamber found the company had issued more than 24 billion rubles in mostly interest-free loans to a host of unrelated companies, including resorts, media and banks. At the same time, it accumulated 39.1 billion rubles in debt to the federal budget.

Unlike Media-MOST's mortgages to its own employees, Gazprom's loans are enormous, violate shareholders' rights and seem to be a direct misuse of public funds. Why aren't prosecutors looking into this?