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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Politicians, Journalists Weigh In on NTV Feud

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As Kremlin officials remained silent over the weekend about the dramatic developments surrounding NTV, prominent politicians and journalists spoke out: While some warned that Saturday's management reshuffle signaled the imminent *2183end of freedom of speech in Russia, others criticized the warring sides for failing to reach a compromise and still others played down the conflict's political component, insisting it was a standard business dispute.

Liberal lawmaker and human rights advocate Sergei Kovalyov told Ekho Moskvy radio Saturday that Gazprom-Media's takeover of NTV was an attempt to restore Soviet-era censorship.

"This is the KGB at the helm," Kovalyov said, alluding to the Kremlin's role in the reshuffle and President Vladimir Putin's KGB past.

Union of Right Forces, or SPS, leader Boris Nemtsov called Gazprom's control over NTV "powerful pressure on freedom of the press."

"If the situation persists for long, then, in many respects, the concept of information security — the essence of which is to place television stations under state control — will be fully implemented and speaking about freedom of the press in our country will be blasphemy," agencies quoted Nemtsov as saying.

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

Alexei Mitrofanov, deputy head of the neo-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, was less radical in criticizing Gazprom, but conceded that the takeover signaled the end of an era.

"A new era has come and we have to understand that clearly," he said in televised remarks. Mitrofanov said it was logical that a period of revolution, such as the rule of ex-President Boris Yeltsin, is followed by a period of conservatism, but warned that conservatism could either be "pragmatic" or degenerate into totalitarianism.

Mitrofanov, whose wife was among the journalists who left NTV Saturday, called the motives and claims of both sides in the dispute "understandable."

SPS's No. 2 Irina Khakamada said the new management's move was predictable, given how unwilling both sides had been to seek compromise.

"We knew the [NTV] team would be the hostage of this situation and would be destroyed, and that's what happened," Khakamada told Ekho Moskvy on Saturday.

Khakamada criticized NTV's ousted general director Yevgeny Kiselyov for failing to step down in order to preserve the station's team of journalists.

"The battle for freedom of speech is … not tantamount to preserving Yevgeny Kiselyov," she said, adding that Kiselyov should have relinquished his managerial posts and allowed the two sides to choose an independent, mutually acceptable figure.

Vladimir Pozner, president of the television academy and one of the nation's most respected television personalities, said NTV's previous leadership and Gazprom are equally responsible for the destruction of NTV.

"A murder has taken place. I feel both sides played a very big role in it," Pozner told Ekho Moskvy, slamming Kiselyov, as did Khakamada, for his failure to seek compromise.

"This stubborn unwillingness to speak — or to speak only on one's own terms only — was a fatal mistake," Pozner said, referring to Kiselyov's reluctance to meet with Gazprom-appointed general director Boris Jordan.

Other public figures called for Putin to interfere in the dispute.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who heads NTV's advisory council, called on Putin to "keep his word and put an end to lawlessness, ordering the Prosecutor General's Office to launch a criminal investigation into allegations of arbitrary obstruction of journalists' legal professional activities." On April 9, after meeting with Putin, Gorbachev said the president believed the courts should settle the dispute surrounding NTV.

The council issued a statement late Saturday saying it was ceasing its activities as a sign of support for the station, since the new management "is ignoring its [the council's] appeals," but vowed its members, "as citizens," would continue to support NTV's staff.

Mikhail Fedotov, secretary of Russia's Union of Journalists and one of the authors of the federal law on media, pointed out that the law was broken when the station's board rather than its journalists appointed Vladimir Kulistikov editor in chief.

"The disregard for the law simply stuns me. While the president speaks about the dictatorship of law … God knows, what's happening right under his nose," Fedotov said.

At the same time, other prominent figures called the conflict a business dispute.

SPS leader and chairman of the national power monopoly UES, Anatoly Chubais, said Gazprom was merely restoring its "sacred and inalienable" ownership rights in NTV, according to the Kremlin-connected Strana.ru web site. Chubais said he believed Gazprom could have taken much tougher measures than it did considering the court ruling in its favor.

State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov said the Duma should not interfere in the conflict involving NTV and other television stations.

"Those are private television companies and they should solve their problems themselves," Seleznyov told Interfax on Sunday, adding that Gazprom has come into its own as NTV's main shareholder.

"Unfortunately, Yevgeny Kiselyov's political ambitions have led to a split in the [journalists'] team," he said.