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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NTV Journalists Meet New Chairman

Journalists protesting against the takeover of Russia's sole national independent TV station confronted their new chairman for the first time on Thursday in a bad-tempered meeting which ended with the promise of more talks.

The row over NTV television, which liberals say reflects the fate of free speech under President Vladimir Putin, has sparked worry abroad. Germany made a fresh expression of concern and said it would raise the issue at a summit next week.

The United States called for a legal resolution of the struggle for control of NTV, saying its journalists needed to maintain editorial control.

"The United States is convinced that independent media are as essential to democracy in Russia as in any other nation," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a statement.

CNN founder Ted Turner has already been drawn into the dispute. He has said he is prepared to buy into the channel, a move that both sides have so far said they back.

New chairman Alfred Kokh strode into the headquarters of NTV television and said he wanted to meet the journalists, who have refused to recognize a new management chosen during a boardroom shakeup on Tuesday.

After around two hours of talks, Kokh said he had agreed to have more discussions on Friday and form a coordination committee that would include 10 representatives from both sides.

"At least we have started a dialogue," Kokh said after the meeting, at which around a dozen journalists pressed him on his stance on editorial policy and the future of the station.

"The journalists' position is clear. We do not recognize the change in management and we do not recognize you," presenter Mariana Maximovskaya told Kokh.

"I don't need your recognition," he retorted.

The changes, including the sacking of general director and editor-in-chief Yevgeny Kiselyov, were forced through by state-dominated Gazprom, whose media arm is led by Kokh.

Gazprom says the fight over NTV is purely financial, as it was owed millions of dollars by the television company.

The journalists say Gazprom is the tool the Kremlin is using to take control of NTV, by far the most influential source of news outside official control.

Kokh said the management changes had nothing to do with press freedoms but were an issue of money.

"You understand you can only make money from NTV with this team and with this general director," said NTV news editor Grigory Krichevsky. "Let's not use ultimatums," Kokh said.

Despite the agreement for more talks, journalists said they would stage more protest against the changes, which also swept NTV's founder, Vladimir Gusinsky, off the board and installed a new editor-in-chief who is now in charge of a state news agency.

The issue has sparked worries abroad, with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder vowing to raise NTV and its implications for press freedom at talks next week in St Petersburg with Putin.

"We are watching media developments and press freedom with concern, in particular with events surrounding NTV," a German government official told journalists in Berlin.

Putin says he backs free speech, but has accused the commercial press of working "against the state".

NTV resumed normal programming after three days of special broadcasts devoted to the fight for control of the station.

NTV has had its share of political dogfights, especially in the mid-1990s when it backed President Boris Yeltsin's re-election. It has also a reputation for groundbreaking journalism, notably during Russia's first 1994-96 Chechen war.

Turner, founder of CNN, said on Wednesday he had agreed with Gusinsky to buy a stake in NTV.

Gusinsky is in Spain awaiting a decision on extradition to face Russian fraud charges. Interfax reported that Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, another Russian business mogul once close to the Kremlin but now abroad, had discussed creating a new channel by combining two smaller stations.