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The BBC's Steve Rosenberg
"So far there has been no sign of NTV's new management"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 4 April, 2001, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Gorbachev 'snubbed' in TV freedom row
Mikhail Gorbachev at news conference
Gorbachev: Couldn't get through to president
Ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has attempted to telephone President Putin in the tense battle over Russia's last independent national TV station.

But Mr Gorbachev said he was told the president was in a meeting and could not speak to him about the crisis at NTV.

Up to 400 journalists at the station are staging a sit-in over yesterday's take-over by a state-dominated gas giant, Gazprom, which sacked the board and brought in its own team.

It is clear that there are political motives

Mikhail Gorbachev
The journalists were joined by members of parliament and human rights activists in an all-night vigil at Ostankino television centre, alarmed at news that the new management team would come to seize NTV offices.

The protesters say the take-over by Gazprom is illegal, and will stifle free speech. They accuse the Kremlin of being behind the move, as the station has established itself as a government critic.

Mr Gorbachev, already a supporter of NTV's independence, called on Mr Putin to intervene.

We have crawled under bullets and walked into beasts' dens to entertain our viewers. Few things can scare us

NTV reporter Nikolai Bazhenov
"The president assured me that he does not want to destroy the channel but that is what is happening," said Mr Gorbachev, who heads an NTV advisory council set up to defend media freedom in Russia.

"I called him this morning but he was in an official meeting," he told a press conference.

"We must find a solution so as not to lose this independent channel," said Mr Gorbachev, who had earlier said Russians were being "humiliated" by what was happening.

"It is clear that there are political motives," he added, but said he could not say for certain that the president was directing the campaign.

Journalist waves flag to supporters
Journalists say their sit-in will continue for "as long as necessary"
NTV's board fell under Gazprom control on Tuesday, after Gazprom wrested power from former owners Media-Most in a boardroom coup.

Meanwhile, the founder of the American international channel, CNN - Ted Turner - has signed an outline deal to buy NTV shares belonging to Media-Most boss Vladimir Gusinsky.

Mr Turner's investment group is reported to include the billionaire financier George Soros.

Programmes cancelled

Some of NTV's leading correspondents say they will defy any orders given by the channel's new director-general - Boris Jordan, an American investment banker.

"We will not stage self-burnings or build barricades, but we will react with civil disobedience," said ousted director Yevgeny Kiselyov, adding: "We will not obey the orders of the new pseudo-management".

What is happening today is nonsense, it is a challenge to our society, it humiliates us, citizens of Russia

Mikhail Gorbachev
NTV correspondent Nikolai Bazhenov said the journalists would eventually win.

"We have crawled under bullets and walked into beasts' dens to entertain our viewers. Few things can scare us," he said.

Regular programming has been cancelled, replaced with hourly news bulletins. In the intervals, NTV has been transmitting a picture of an empty studio, a symbol journalists here claim of the threat to freedom of the media in Russia.

Mr Jordan has told the BBC he would defend NTV's editorial independence.

Police with ousted managing director Yevgeny Kiselyov
NTV's ousted boss was told by police that demonstrations were illegal
But the BBC Moscow correspondent says the journalists accuse the Kremlin of masterminding the changes to punish the channel for its regular criticism of President Putin.

The old NTV board was sacked by the gas firm Gazprom, which says it owns a controlling stake of the station.

NTV's original parent company, the Media-Most empire run by tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, says the meeting was illegal and the new board appointed by Gazprom has no legitimacy.

Russia's only two other nationwide television stations, ORT and RTR, are already controlled by the government.

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See also:

04 Apr 01 | Europe
NTV's battle with the Kremlin
04 Apr 01 | Monitoring
Journalists screen their own protest
23 Feb 01 | Europe
Gorbachev turns TV presenter
03 Apr 01 | Europe
Russian TV station loses freedom
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
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