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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Only Time Will Tell for NTV, TV6

With all the hullaballoo surrounding the closure of TV6, the Jan. 15 deadline for determining details of the sale of Gazprom-Media's stake in NTV passed relatively unnoticed. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said Jan. 17 that the deadline was being postponed -- but only by two weeks. That's Thursday.

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One of the paradoxes in this whole affair has been that TV6, owned by the hostile Boris Berezovsky, in its last six months was notably less hard-hitting in its news coverage than NTV in its Gazprom-Media-controlled incarnation.

Perhaps this is no great surprise. TV6 was on best behavior for fear of provoking further retribution from the authorities, while NTV feels it has to prove its independence at every turn in order to disarm the many cynics who predicted NTV post-takeover would rapidly become a Kremlin cheerleader.

However, this masks the underlying fragility of the situation and the effective monopoly-control of national television that the Kremlin currently -- and hopefully temporarily -- enjoys.

A best-case scenario for immediate development of the media market is outlined by Boris Jordan. But what about considering a somewhat less rosy scenario? And why not start with Jordan's own position?

For all the admirable work being done at NTV, until the channel is finally auctioned, he is merely a Gazprom-hired manager who can be removed at the stroke of a pen if the powers-that-be so wish. After the sale, NTV's CEO will be at the mercy of the new owner, and the likelihood of it being an oligarch with close ties to the Putin administration -- such as Sergei Pugachyov -- is at least as great as of it going to some "independent" commercially-motivated consortium.

Much the same applies to the March tender for TV6's license. Maybe it will be awarded to the "old" editorial team. But the ownership question will still remain. The administration seems to have pretty firm ideas about who is persona non grata in the world of television ownership, so what's to say that its ideas about who is persona grata are not equally firm.

That's not to say that we should expect a crackdown on critical coverage imminently. But fast-forward two years to the next round of State Duma and presidential elections, and the situation may look very different.

Instead of just ORT and RTR bludgeoning the electorate with cynical smear campaigns and unstinting promotion of the incumbent, it could well be the same across all four of the national channels (replete with Sergei Dorenko clones).

For the sanity of the nation, if not for the development of democracy, let's hope not.