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The BBC's Alex Brodie speaks to
Alim Yussupov, NTV's political correspondent and Vladimir Kulistikov, the newly appointed chief editor
 real 28k

Wednesday, 4 April, 2001, 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK
NTV's battle with the Kremlin
Yevgeny Kiselyov, right, NTV general director is stopped by a Gazprom guard
NTV has become its own biggest story
By Russian Affairs Analyst Stephen Dalziel

The row over the NTV television channel is being seen by many as a battle for media freedom in Russia.

NTV was founded in 1993, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the time, the Russia media was free to the point of anarchy.

It's an insult to all of us, citizens of Russia...We must speak out and defend this channel

Mikhail Gorbachev
But since Vladimir Putin became Prime Minister and then President, there has been a noticeable tightening of the state's grip on the media.

NTV is still broadcasting the news in Russia. But for the past 24 hours, the story that has dominated its bulletins has been the takeover of its board of directors by the state gas giant, Gazprom.

Chechen war

The event that sparked off NTV's dispute with the Kremlin was the start of the war in Chechnya in September 1999.

The Russian authorities had learned from the first Chechen War, from '94 to '96, that a free press could mean a bad press for the Russian Army.

With much of Mr Putin's personal rating dependant on the success of the '99 operation, it was in his interest that the Russian people were shown a favourable account of events. NTV challenged this.

They tried to give a balanced view, explaining why the army was undertaking certain operations, but highlighting incompetence and ill-discipline when they saw it.

pro-NTV rally
Farewell to media freedom?
On wider social issues in Russian life, such as non-payment of salaries, poor housing conditions or the indifference of local authorities, NTV has tended to be harder hitting than the state-owned national TV channels, ORT and RTR.

Many leading Russian liberal politicians, journalists and famous personalities have already spoken out in favour of NTV's independence.

On a hastily-scheduled discussion programme on Tuesday evening, the former Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, whose reforms in the late 1980s did much to encourage freedom of speech in Russia, criticised the actions of Gazprom in taking over NTV.

"For me, this is nonsense, it's a clarion call to the whole of society. It's an insult to all of us, citizens of Russia...We must speak out and not allow this to happen - we must defend this channel," he said.

The Kremlin remains silent. But they, and millions of others, will be monitoring carefully NTV's output in the coming days.

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See also:

03 Apr 01 | Europe
Russian TV station loses freedom
10 Feb 01 | Europe
Russia TV saga rumbles on
29 Jan 01 | Europe
TV journalists in Kremlin talks
17 Dec 00 | Media reports
Russian media war hots up
26 Mar 01 | Europe
Russian tycoon released on bail
16 Jun 00 | Europe
Gusinsky: Thorn in Putin's side
28 Mar 00 | Business
Russia's new oligarchs
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