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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THT and TV6 Hit by NTV Invasion

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Although the editorial offices of THT television comprise only four or five rooms, the crowds of journalists at the company's headquarters Tuesday had a hard time figuring out which room was which: The signs and name plates on the doors were pasted over with pieces of paper that were constantly falling down — "Late Night News," "Itogi," "Journalists' Coordination Center," and so on.

The confusion was caused by dozens of former employees from THT's sister station NTV, who resigned to protest Saturday's takeover of their station by new managers. The newly homeless journalists scurried back and forth along THT's corridors and occupied every free computer in the crowded offices at the Ostankino building just across the street from NTV's headquarters.

Since taking in its itinerant colleagues four days ago, THT has had to slash its own programming in half to accommodate the NTV team's five daily news programs and at least two other popular shows, "Tushite Svet" and "Stary Televizor."

While the former NTV staff were grateful to THT for the opportunity to keep working, they seemed to know the arrangement couldn't last long and were impatient to start working on a permanent basis.

"THT's schedule is a very sore subject. We know we shouldn't open them up to problems," said former NTV news anchor Andrei Norkin, referring to complications that could crop up for THT with the Press Ministry over its broadcasting license if the station's new programs veer too far away from its approved entertainment format.

THT spokeswoman Natalya Zavyalova agreed that the arrangement couldn't last long.

'In saving themselves, they are ready to sacrifice us.'
— TV6 staff statement


"We depend on our regional affiliates," Zavyalova said. "So far they've been understanding, but we don't know how long that will last. THT and NTV always had different audiences."

THT provides content to a broad network of regional television companies, some of which it owns, some of which air the content on a contract basis.

Apart from the crowded conditions, THT's support for the defiant NTV journalists may have caused some other problems for the station. Tax Police on Monday re-opened an old tax-evasion case against THT, which Media-MOST — NTV and THT's parent company — said was an attempt to pressure the station's management into distancing themselves from NTV.

But the troubles surrounding NTV have sent shockwaves through the television industry going much further than its sister station.

Another station viewed as a possible refuge for the ex-NTV staff is the TV6 network controlled by Boris Berezovsky, who has made it clear that the editorial team led by NTV's ousted general director Yevgeny Kiselyov would be welcome at TV6.

Kiselyov was appointed as the network's acting general director Saturday, prompting several top TV6 officials to resign.

Executive director Alexander Ponomaryov and deputy news chief Eduard Gindileyev stepped down Tuesday citing "the change in political vector" at the network. Their resignations came a day after TV6 news chief Mikhail Ponomaryov said he would leave if Kiselyov was brought in.

Also on Tuesday, 85 TV6 staffers, both journalists and technical personnel, issued a statement calling on Kiselyov's team to return to their own station and warning them not to re-enact the kind of hostile takeover they accuse the new managers from Gazprom-Media of staging at NTV.

"In saving themselves, they are ready to sacrifice us," the statement was quoted by Interfax as saying.

"We do not trust the leadership that turned out to be incapable of saving its own brainchild. … We do not want these people taking care of us now. Your leadership now has what could be its last chance to leave the game without new victims," the statement said.

Shortly after the statement was released, Vladimir Batrakov, chief producer of Kiselyov's analytical show "Itogi," said he would return to NTV in light of the tension with TV6.

"I've known many of the guys from TV6 for more than 15 years. … When I imagined that with my arrival some of them could be sacked, it made me feel ill at ease," Batrakov told Interfax.

When Kiselyov accepted the offer to join TV6, he declared that he wanted his entire team to join him there, sparking worry among TV6 employees that they could lose their jobs.

As one of the NTV journalists determined to work at TV6, Norkin called the TV6 officials' reaction too emotional.

"[Mikhail] Ponomaryov is exaggerating the degree of tragedy," Norkin said, adding that he thinks there is enough room and work for everybody at the station. He suggested TV6's news coverage might benefit from the influx of NTV pros.

Berezovsky, who controls 75 percent of TV6, seemed to agree.

Interfax reported that Berezovsky held a telephone conference with TV6 staff Tuesday and quoted an unnamed source who attended as saying Berezovsky explained his decision to invite Kiselyov and his team as motivated by the need to strengthen the station's news coverage and turn TV6 into a nationwide channel.

"It is necessary to strengthen the [station's] news arm, since TV6 is effectively the only private station left," Berezovsky reportedly said.

Interfax cited TV6 deputy general director Ivan Demidov as saying that some of the 100 or so staff members at the conference were concerned their news coverage would become overly politicized with the influx of former NTV journalists. But Berezovsky assured them this would not be the case, saying TV6 would be an "absolutely independent channel" targeted at a young audience.

The unnamed source told Interfax the discussion between Berezovsky and the TV6 staff was quite heated and didn't seem to yield much "mutual understanding."

The statement issued by the 85 employees from TV6 to their guests from NTV made it clear that the tension between the two news teams was sometimes personal.

"We're trying not to notice your sometimes haughty phrases about how exceptional you are," ORT television quoted the statement as saying.

According to Interfax's source, Berezovsky tried to assuage the TV6 team's concerns about layoffs and funding by explaining that he would now be giving TV6 the money that had been going to his recently abandoned main media interest, ORT television.

The source also cited Berezovsky as saying the teams should try to learn to work together by the next shareholders meeting, tentatively scheduled for May 4.

Tuesday night, TV6 aired the first news program prepared by the former NTV team and hosted by popular NTV anchor Mikhail Osokin. The show came out an hour and a half ahead of the regular 11 p.m. news produced by TV6.