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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NTV and Gazprom Agree to Negotiate

Embattled NTV management agreed Thursday to sit down with Gazprom-Media representatives and hammer out a compromise to their protest of the takeover of the channel by the subsidiary of state-controlled gas giant Gazprom.

Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh said after a two-hour meeting with NTV general director Yevgeny Kiselyov that they had decided to form a negotiating team with up to 10 people from each camp. A first meeting was scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at Media-MOST headquarters.

"I am quite pleased that a dialogue has begun," said Kokh, who was named NTV chairman at a controversial shareholders meeting earlier this week.

Asked what issues would first be approached, Kokh said, "First and foremost personnel decisions, of course."

The agreement to form a conciliatory commission was the first break in a standoff that began Tuesday when Gazprom-Media voted to oust the present management at the shareholders meeting. Since then, NTV employees have worked in protest mode, canceling regular programming to report just news.

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

The events of this week encapsulate a yearlong conflict between Gazprom and Media-MOST, NTV's parent company. Gazprom says it has the right to take over NTV because of the millions of dollars in debts it had to cover for Media-MOST. In turn, Media-MOST says it is being targeted for its news coverage that has been critical of the Kremlin.

Click here to read our special report on the Struggle for Media-MOST.NTV resumed its usual broadcasting at about 3 p.m. Thursday at the request of Media-MOST.

Kiselyov said the programming resumed "in the interests of our viewers … and the decision was supported by a meeting of the editorial staff."

"But we will not stop protesting," he added. "It [the protest] will take different forms. We stand by our previous position. We do not recognize the decision that is being imposed upon us and will continue to work as we did before."

Meanwhile, CNN founder Ted Turner remained silent about the status of his negotiations with Gazprom. Turner on Wednesday confirmed that he had agreed to buy a majority of Media-MOST founder Vladimir Gusinsky's shares in NTV through his Turner International Ventures. The investment vehicle has no links to Turner's position as vice chairman of AOL Time Warner.

U.S. investment banker Boris Jordan, who was appointed NTV general director this week, said he intended to meet with Turner's representatives on Friday.

Turner spokesman Brian Faw could not confirm that such a meeting was scheduled.

Jordan and Kokh will be part of the conciliatory commission meeting with NTV staff Friday, Kokh said. Vladimir Kulistikov, the newly appointed chief editor to NTV was also expected to participate.

The members from NTV's side were not announced.

All decisions made by the group would have to be agreed unanimously, Gazprom-Media and NTV officials said. Implementation of the decision would be mandatory.

Privately, NTV journalists said they doubted that the negotiators would be able to reach any compromise.

Earlier in the day, Kokh announced that he wanted to "hang out" at NTV headquarters and talk with the journalists. But after he strolled in and took his place at the negotiating table, talking turned to shouting as Kokh evaded questions. When NTV staff told Kokh that they would not back down from their demands that Kiselyov remain general director, he replied: "Now, as for what I'm interested in …" and began a discussion of the company's finances.

The back-and-forth discussions became especially heated between Kiselyov and Kokh.

"The current manager is completely dependent on one shareholder, from whom he receives his orders every week," said Kokh, referring to Gusinsky's influence on the channel's content.

"But you are under direct pressure from the Kremlin," Kiselyov spat back.

Kokh said he was against keeping Kiselyov as general director. "This is the prerogative of shareholders. He's a good journalist but a bad manager."

However, Kokh said he would not mind placing Kiselyov in the role of chief editor with a limited say over financial matters.

While Kokh spent the afternoon at NTV, Jordan said he wouldn't step foot inside the offices while the employees were protesting.

He also announced the formation of a transition committee to handle the transfer of power from Kiselyov to himself.

Kiselyov said he had received a letter from Jordan asking him to hand over documentation of the channel's doings and the official NTV stamp.

Kiselyov said that he was addressed as chief accountant instead of chief editor in the letter.

"I am not going to hand over the affairs to Jordan," he said.

Just minutes after Kiselyov announced that regular programming would be resumed, representatives of the transition committee arrived at NTV and demanded to meet with him. They could not immediately get in because the staff blocked their way.

Jordan expressed confusion about the news of Turner's deal to purchase Gusinsky's shares.

"I would be surprised to find out that Turner actually bought these shares without first consulting Gazprom-Media and Capital Group," Jordan told the newspaper Izvestia.

Capital Group is the parent company of Capital Research Management, a U.S. investment fund that holds a 4.5 percent stake in NTV. It played a pivotal role in Tuesday's shareholders meeting by giving Gazprom-Media enough shares to muster a quorum.

Fund officials have thrown their weight behind Jordan and said they are optimistic about his ability to put together a group of international investors to finance NTV.

It was unclear what Capital Research Management's relationship would be with Gazprom-Media in the future and how their ties would affect Turner's deal to buy into NTV.

From the beginning, Turner made it clear that no shareholder should own a majority stake in NTV to ensure channel's independence.

"That's the guiding principle," Turner's spokesman Faw said. "We agreed with Gazprom that no one was going to have a controlling stake."

Chuck Freadhoff, spokesman for Capital Research, declined to say whether the fund was considering selling its stake in NTV.

Faw said that Turner is not holding any talks with Capital Research Management, characterizing Turner's relationship with the fund's managers as "nice."

Oksana Yablokovo contributed to this report.