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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ousted Russian Journalists Aim to Continue Broadcasts

Journalists and other workers who left NTV after the takeover of Russia's only non-state nationwide television channel by a Kremlin-connected company said they wouldn't be silenced by the move and plan to continue independent-minded work on smaller channels.

The natural gas giant Gazprom took control of NTV before dawn Saturday, ordering the channel's security staff to leave. Afterward, Boris Jordan, the American financier named by Gazprom to run NTV in a controversial shareholders' meeting two weeks ago, showed up and took over the offices of the ousted general director, Yevgeny Kiselyov.

About 40 recalcitrant NTV employees were forced to resign, and hundreds of others apparently chose to follow, gathering for a meeting with Kiselyov Saturday evening at TNT, a channel owned by NTV's former parent company.

Dissident NTV journalists put out news broadcasts on TNT, which has a much smaller reach than NTV. Kiselyov meanwhile said he had accepted an offer to become acting general director of TV6, an independent channel which is larger than TNT.

It was unclear how many of NTV's dissident employees would or could go to TV6, and Kiselyov cautioned that his move would become permanent only if TV6 shareholders guaranteed full editorial, creative and financial independence for the station.

"I accept the offer with gratitude," Kiselyov said, but he was clearly shaken by the moves on NTV.

"It's a betrayal by insolent, cynical, cowardly people," Kiselyov said. "They've ruined NTV, which was my home."

NTV was founded by Kiselyov and a few other journalists in 1993 in the heady early years of former President Boris Yeltsin's rule. It was financed by Vladimir Gusinsky, a flamboyant former theater director who had made a fortune in banking.

The network recruited young, energetic journalists who quickly made NTV noted for probing reporting, in contrast to state-controlled nationwide channels ORT and RTR. NTV reported extensively and critically on the Kremlin and on the war in Chechnya.

But NTV also built up huge debts, most of them to Gazprom, which acquired 46 percent of NTV's stock.

Gazprom, which is 38.4-percent owned by the state and whose board chairman is a top Kremlin official and ally of President Vladimir Putin, says it took over to protect the value of its NTV stake. Gazprom has been at war for months with Gusinsky, who heads NTV's parent company Media-Most and fled to Spain to avoid fraud charges that he says are politically motivated.

For many Russian intellectuals and liberal lawmakers, NTV represented one of the major achievements of the post-Soviet decade and the takeover was seen as a deep loss.

"If the situation remains for a long time, then in many respects, the concept of information security, the essence of which was to put TV channels under state control, will be fully implemented and it will be blasphemy to speak about freedom of the press in our country," influential liberal lawmaker Boris Nemtsov said.

An NTV advisory council, led by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, called on Putin to "keep his word and put an end to the lawlessness, ordering the general prosecutor to launch a criminal case on accusations of arbitrariness and obstruction of the journalists' legal, professional activities." Gorbachev had said after meeting with Putin on April 9 that the president believed a court should decide the NTV dispute.

The advisory council also announced in a statement late Saturday that it was ceasing its activities in support of the television station, since the new management "ignores its appeals." However, the council vowed that its members "as citizens will continue to support the collective of the truly independent television."

The move of Kiselyov to TV6 carries political overtones. The channel belongs to Boris Berezovsky, a one-time Kremlin insider who is on the outs with its current occupants. Berezovsky formerly owned 49 percent of ORT, but divested the shares, claiming he was under Kremlin pressure.

A Moscow court is to hold hearings in May on the validity of Jordan's appointment. Jordan said he would step down if his appointment is deemed illegal. NTV has already lost one court case in the matter.