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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Victors Get to Eat the Vanquished

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Last week, Gazprom-Media director Alfred Kokh once again announced that he had taken complete control over NTV. And once again it seems that he spoke prematurely.

Kokh's determination is matched only by his helplessness. For eight months now, the man has been fruitlessly stalking NTV with all the formidable weapons of the state's arsenal. This in a country where even the most primitive Siberian thug has learned how to take over a factory in the space of 24 hours. And perfectly legally, too.

Before I go on, I must make a personal aside. Last week I resigned from NTV, and, beginning this month, I will have my own program on ORT. Several newspapers have already written all sorts of rubbish about this move, but my choice has absolutely nothing to do with ideology or even financial disagreements with NTV. The truth is that ORT has offered to make a series based on my novel "Deer Hunting," and part of the deal was that my program would move to ORT as well.

I now know that leaving one's favorite television channel is very hard, but, in this case, we managed to part amicably. NTV director general Yevgeny Kiselyov even tore up my letter of resignation, which I guess means that formally I remain an NTV correspondent.

Media-MOST has been loudly declaring that everything happening with NTV is a brutal persecution of independent television. The Kremlin, for its part, insists that all of NTV founder Vladimir Gusinsky's problems are purely commercial.

To put it mildly, the Kremlin is dissembling. What is happening to NTV is a classic example of a Russian-style hostile takeover. Its main features are a continuous assault by all the state law enforcement agencies that makes it impossible for the victim to rest or recover his balance, forcing him to make mistakes; the isolation of the victim from his former friends in the governments; cutting off all sources of revenue to the victim's holdings; and, in the end, the transfer of ownership of those holdings for a pittance.

But NTV is not being honest either when it claims that it is merely experiencing the problems of an impartial television company in a hostile political climate. In order to be impartial, one must stand aside from politics, and, of course, Gusinsky did anything but stand aside. In the presidential race last winter and spring, he bet his wad on Fatherland-All Russia and on former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. And he lost. In Russia, the winner takes the loser's property. If Primakov and Gusinsky had won, the tables would be turned, but the principle would be the same.

It should also be noted that it was due to a pitiless persecution by Gusinsky's mass media that Kokh was fired as head of the State Property Committee in 1997. The vengeful Gusinsky has repeatedly stated that he will put Kokh in prison.

Soviet television was a tool of propaganda; in Russia, it remains just that. Television has become an integral part of an economy in which the most profitable investments are not in production but in elections. Elections are won not by presenting a superior platform, but by controlling national media.

From this truth comes the conclusion that the government cannot long control television. It is just too lucrative. Even if Roman Abramovich manages to get ORT and Gazprom takes NTV, the Kremlin's control is only assured until the next election. The monolith of the media will fragment then; the race will be won; and, once again, the victors will consume the property of the vanquished.

Yulia Latynina is a Moscow-based journalist.