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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gazprom Swoops Into NTV Studios

After two weeks of having control of NTV on paper, Gazprom-appointed managers took over operations during the wee hours of Saturday morning, the first symbolic step being a literal changing of the guards.

This maneuver — performed by new general director Boris Jordan during a quiet Easter holiday weekend and during former general director Yevgeny Kiselyov's absence — ignited a long-brewing schism within the NTV ranks and inspired plans by journalists led by Kiselyov to create a new national television station.

Click here to read our special report on the Struggle for Media-MOST.

Jordan and Alfred Kokh, current NTV board chairman and general director of Gazprom-Media, legally assumed their titles after a controversial shareholders meeting April 3. NTV said the decision was illegal and is contesting it in court.

Some NTV journalists said they would not accept the new leadership. Until Saturday morning, the journalists had kept them at a distance by vociferous protests on and off the air.

Kokh and Jordan also had the primary roles in negotiating with media magnate Ted Turner, who has agreed to buy out some shares from Vladimir Gusinsky, NTV's founder, on the condition that he could also strike a deal with Gazprom. Turner's involvement may now be delayed or scuttled altogether.

By Sunday evening, a rough picture was surfacing of the new Jordan-led NTV and of the changes Kiselyov's team is bringing to other channels.

NTV has lost some programs but has continued to produce "Segodnya" news broadcasts with second-string anchors.

Many of the high-profile anchors have gone over to THT, which like NTV is part of Gusinsky's Media-MOST holding company, and they have been doing "Segodnya on THT." The station broadcast a makeshift "Itogi," the weekly Sunday evening feature hosted by Kiselyov.

TV6 also is getting involved. The station, which has been considering a merger with THT, announced Saturday that Kiselyov would come on board as interim general director.

It was still unclear how many journalists had left NTV because of Saturday morning's takeover. According to Grigory Krichevsky, who used to head the station's news service, 80 percent to 85 percent of NTV employees have no desire to work with the new management.

But a source close to Jordan said this was far from the truth. "We're really just talking about 10 percent of employees," the source told Interfax.

Jordan said he has seen 35 to 40 resignation letters. The web site for radio station Ekho Moskvy — also part of Media-MOST — put the number at 350, with 47 representing the "face" of the channel.

In addition to staff, the programming also is set to change. The "Kukly" satire will stay on NTV, but it is possible that the people behind the show will leave, Interfax reported. The design group is quitting and already working at THT. The sports desk is also leaving, although the license to broadcast Champions League soccer matches will stay with NTV.

The popular animated program "Tushite Svet" will move to THT, as will "Stary Televizor." The "Kriminal" program will stay on NTV.

"We are playing everything by ear," said Viktor Shenderovich, Kiselyov loyalist and creator of the "Itogo" program, which has been canceled from NTV's lineup.

THT, however, is far from a safe haven for former NTV staff. If Media-MOST fails to pay up on a $262 million loan due this July, then Gazprom will gain a controlling stake in the company.

At a meeting Sunday, former NTV journalists decided to create a command center to deal with anticipated problems as different programs move to THT and, perhaps eventually, to TV6.

Berezovsky, who owns 75 percent of TV6, and Gusinsky agreed earlier this month to begin a feasibility study of a merger. The hiring of Kiselyov might mean that some NTV programs would eventually be broadcast on TV6.

"Today and tomorrow, we will continue talks with the management and employees of TV6 about the proposal to hire Kiselyov for the position of general director," said journalist Ashot Hasibov, who participated in the meeting. "We wouldn't want our move to TV6 to look like a seizure of someone else's company."

However, that's exactly what Kiselyov's actions are beginning to look like, said TV6 screenwriter Viktor Merezhko on Ekho Moskvy.

"This is either a provocation or just stupidity," Merezhko said. "TV6 has its own strong collective, audience and traditions. When they say that a new team will come on board and squeeze out the old, a conflict could arise."

Also speaking on Ekho Moskvy, Kiselyov put his own hopes on the merger with TV6. "We want to sit together with TV6 management and employees and start to think of how we're going to make out of two teams a superteam," said Kiselyov, who on Saturday flew in from Spain, where he was discussing the NTV situation with Gusinsky.

The actions of Kiselyov and his supporters at the channel didn't deter Jordan or Kokh, who predicted the situation will normalize in the coming days, despite the absence of several key journalists.

"They are just victims of emotion," said Oleg Sapozhnikov, Jordan's spokesman. "We have grounds to believe that the majority will return to NTV."

Before the takeover, NTV was the only non-state television channel in Russia. That has changed with the appearance of Gazprom-appointed management. The Kremlin owns 38 percent of Gazprom, the natural gas monopoly.

The changeover began at 4 a.m. Saturday when the old security staff was ordered to leave and Jordan's guards took over.

According to Interfax reports, NTV employees were not allowed to enter the Ostankino office Saturday morning until they signed a document saying they agreed to cooperate with the new management.

Defiant NTV reporters managed to go on the air with the 8 a.m. news broadcast and begin explaining the night's events, but the plug was pulled after four minutes. In the confusion over the change in management, NTV broadcasts were interrupted in Siberia and the Far East.

Since Saturday morning, broadcasting on NTV has continued without much change in outward appearance, other than the conspicuous absence of Kiselyov's "Itogi." In its place NTV ran a French comedy.

"The situation is developing normally, broadcasts are continuing," Kokh said Saturday. "Today, Boris Jordan has set about fulfilling his obligations as general director."

The preparation of NTV's new budget will begin Monday, Jordan said Saturday on the radio station Mayak.

"Just today in my very short time here, I have discovered massive debts," Jordan said, adding that he was finalizing talks with domestic and foreign banks on a $30 million syndicated loan to recapitalize NTV. "I will do an audit with Arthur Andersen and PricewaterhouseCoopers and I will publish it for the whole world to show everyone what was going on in this company."

Kokh agreed: "An audit needs to be conducted. Consultants need to be invited. A business plan has to be developed. And this business plan has to be realized." It will take about six months to resolve the station's financial problems, he said.

NTV is still looking for an investor, Kokh said. "If it will be a foreign investor, then the company will have additional means to tap capital markets and increase accessibility to international products," he said.

Turner has already reached a deal with Gusinsky to buy 30 percent of NTV as well as receive control of all of Gusinsky's voting power. However, this deal will only be carried out if Turner also agrees on an arrangement with Gazprom.

Kokh gave no sign that a deal between Turner and Gazprom-Media would be signed anytime soon.

"We are in the beginning stages," he said. "We're not about to give in to these all-encompassing histrionics and force negotiations. They need to progress at the tempo and rhythm that usually accompanies talks about deals of this size."

Turner spokesman Brian Faw said the Turner team would need time to evaluate what's going on. "The circumstances of the last couple of days are disappointing," Faw said in a telephone interview.

In an interview on Radio Liberty, Gusinsky said that any purchase of NTV shares on Turner's part now "doesn't make much sense."