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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Jury Is Still Out

Amid the frenzy of hand-wringing that accompanied the regrettable closure of TV6 last week, one small piece of news was overlooked by the vast majority of those who report on events in this country. Alongside sometimes hysterical reporting that cast the closure of TV6 as the end of democracy as we know it, the fact that journalists at NTV had signed a charter guaranteeing their independence hardly registered on any news agenda at all.

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In fact, NTV's charter represents an important milestone in the building of independent media in Russia. It is the first time a television channel in this country has produced a binding document outlining the relationship between journalists, management and shareholders in order to guarantee the editorial independence of those journalists. It is a document that sets in stone my commitment to protect the newsroom from any outside influence, political or financial, a commitment that I made when I was first appointed last April.

Today, almost a year after I was appointed chief executive officer at NTV, I believe that most foreign correspondents that watch our channel have now accepted, albeit sometimes grudgingly, that NTV has continued to report the news in an objective and timely manner, independent of the Kremlin. But not all journalists have accepted this. In the outpouring of editorial analysis concerning the TV6 story that has dominated the pages of so much of the world's press and not least of The Moscow Times, the comparison between developments at NTV and TV6 has been an easy one to make but all too often unfair. When the European edition of The Wall Street Journal commented that "you can bet that NTV's editorial policy will tip-toe around Kremlin sensitive spots such as Chechnya," it thought it was firing a well-aimed bullet at me and my management team. In fact, it insulted the professionalism of our newsroom and the integrity of the correspondents who only last month were arrested in Chechnya and had their equipment destroyed by the Russian military.

TV6 owner Boris Berezovsky and founder of NTV Vladimir Gusinsky naturally present something of a dilemma for most foreign correspondents. Most Russia watchers have coalesced around the charming but patently absurd view that "they were no angels but democracy is worse off without them," and would have us believe they had both been muzzled somehow. Yet the opposite is true. When Berezovsky claimed he could prove that the Federal Security Service blew up several apartment blocks in 1999 -- a claim he has failed to substantiate -- he led the news on NTV. From self-imposed exile he continues to attack the Kremlin and predict the imminent fall of President Putin. In fact, he does it live... on NTV.

Messrs Berezovsky and Gusinsky were the first to realize the true potential of television in Russia, the power to elect presidents. They boasted they were more powerful than the state and spent hundreds of millions of dollars (of taxpayer's money) on supporting media empires that they used shamelessly to further their political ambitions. They enjoyed freedom of speech without responsibility to shareholders, to their staff or to any independent agency capable of filtering the quality of the material they broadcast. And having wielded their channels so frequently to the benefit of the incumbent of the Kremlin -- without a whisper of complaint from the many correspondents who watched this happen on a daily basis -- it was inevitable that the tentacles of the state would find their way into the world of television.

That is why I remain concerned at the closure of TV6 and wish every success to the journalists who worked at the channel in their application for the license to broadcast. The media market will be all the stronger and more vibrant for their presence.

For much of the past year I have been working to restructure NTV in order that it might be sold to an investor or group of investors. The true guarantee of independence for any business is for that business to turn a profit.

Media analysts are wont to describe these as dark days in the struggle for free media. Instead, I believe this is a moment of opportunity. Gazprom has committed itself to the sale of NTV and the government has offered the TV6 license for tender. Thus, it is quite possible that in short order two channels will enjoy the right to call themselves independent, two newsrooms will compete in breaking stories that accurately reflect the society we live in.

It is too early to mourn the demise of a fledgling fourth estate that is capable and willing to criticize and report objectively on the manner in which this country is governed. The road toward democracy in Russia has not been an easy one, but freedom of speech, or glasnost as it was described when I first arrived here, was quickly established as a founding tenet of that democracy. Even if it does not always taste nice, it is not something that this government, or any other, will easily put back in the box.

Boris Jordan, CEO of NTV, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.