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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ekho Moskvy Makes Bid For New Radio Station

The seemingly resolved conflict between Ekho Moskvy radio station and its majority shareholder, state gas giant Gazprom, reignited this week, as Ekho's editor announced plans to start up a new station.

Editor Alexei Venediktov said in a telephone interview Thursday that he and his team have bid for a new FM frequency set to be auctioned off later this month because Gazprom-Media, which holds a 52 percent stake in the station, has dragged its feet on a deal to sell part of its stake to a neutral third party.

"There have been no developments on the part of Gazprom-Media since July," Venediktov said.

According to the compromise deal, announced at a July 17 news conference, Gazprom-Media was to sell a 9.5 percent stake of Ekho shares to former Economics Minister Yevgeny Yasin, who hosted a program on the station. The deal was meant to ensure that no one shareholder would have a controlling stake.

Venediktov said Gazprom-Media was supposed to complete the sale by Aug. 1, according to an agreement between him and Gazprom-Media chief Alfred Kokh. Venediktov said, however, that the agreement had not been sealed in writing.

"The only evidence of the deal is a videotape of our joint press conference where we talk about the terms of the sale," he said.

Gazprom-Media denied that a deadline for the deal had been set.

"It is not fixed anywhere," spokeswoman Aelita Yefimova said by telephone Thursday. "We sent the necessary document to Gazprom's board of directors for approval in July, and now we are awaiting for their decision." Yefimova said she did not know when that decision might be handed down.

Gazprom-Media got control of the radio station in April as part of its politically charged takeover of NTV television and other assets owned by Vladimir Gusinsky's Media-MOST.

Venediktov said that working at a station controlled by Gazprom-Media would effectively mean working under the Kremlin, and those who did not wish to do so would be forced to look for new options.

The embryonic Radio Arsenal, which was registered by Venediktov and several Ekho top managers in Yekaterinburg in July 2000, will take part in a tender set for Sept. 26 in a bid to win one of two FM frequencies to be sold off by the Communications Ministry. Kommersant reported Thursday that 36 radio stations have already thrown their hats in the ring.

Venediktov said Arsenal's format would be talk radio.

He also said he feared the review of Arsenal's tender application could be biased due to government pressure since five of the nine tender commission members are on the state's payroll.

"Being considered in opposition to the state leadership will be a minus for us during the vote," he said.

However, Viktoria Sukhareva, a radio analyst with the Association of Regional Radio Broadcasters, said that both Ekho's professionalism and its political status might work in Arsenal's favor.

"Ekho Moskvy is a symbol of democratic Russia for many," she said in a telephone interview. "It would be unwise for the country's authorities -- regardless of their own political preferences -- to ruin such idols."