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Sunday, 10 September, 2000, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Row erupts as Russian TV show axed
Media tycoon Boris Berezovsky
Boris Berezovsky says media freedom is under attack

The bitter battle for control over Russian television took a new twist when one of Russia's most influential media tycoons accused the Kremlin of waging war on freedom of speech, after a flagship TV programme was pulled off the air.

Boris Berezovsky described the cancellation of the Sergey Dorenko Show, a weekly analytical programme, as "unequivocal proof" that the authorities had launched a "serious campaign" against media freedom and warned that Russian was only "one step away" from authoritarian rule.

Mr Dorenko himself said he believed Vladimir Putin was behind the decision because he had refused to be the president's "favourite".

Putin overture

Konstantin Ernst, director of Russian Public TV, said he had axed this week's edition of the show because the presenter had refused to keep silent about a tussle for control over shares in the channel.

The president asked me to be his favourite journalist

Sergey Dorenko

Mr Dorenko, he said, was planning to include a segment on Mr Berezovsky's claims that Kremlin aides had threatened to jail him if he didn't hand over his 49% stake in the station to the state.

But Mr Dorenko, once one of Mr Putin's strongest supporters, told Ekho Moskvy radio he thought the order had come from the president himself because he had refused to join his "team".

A systematic attack on freedom of speech has been under way for months

Sergey Dorenko

"On 29th August," he said, "the president proposed that I join his team, as he put it, and stay at Channel 1 to be his favourite and best-loved journalist."

"I said to him: I am very sorry, I can and very much would like to work at Channel 1 but as part of the team of the viewers. He just said in reply: I see that you have not yet made up your mind. I said: On the contrary, I have made up my mind, in favour of the viewers."

Another reason why he had fallen out of favour, he added, was his coverage of the Kursk submarine tragedy "which caused the Kremlin great annoyance".

"Systematic" attack on media

Asked if he interpreted the show's cancellation as an attack on media freedom, Mr Dorenko said a "systematic effort to destroy freedom of speech in Russia" had been under way for many months.

Russian Public TV presenter Sergey Dorenko
Sergey Dorenko's TV show was axed at short notice

"They are trying to intimidate journalists, for instance, by arresting [media tycoon Vladimir] Gusinsky and threatening to put Berezovsky in prison...

"At the same time they are proposing that others join their team, as if offering a ticket to the future, just as I was offered a ticket to my bright future. He winked at me and it meant my future would be bright. And now he is showing what happens to those who refuse to accept the ticket."

Totalitarian fears

Mr Berezovsky linked the show's cancellation to pressure on himself and Mr Gusinsky, whose company controls NTV and several other media outlets.

Russia is only one step away from authoritarian rule

Boris Berezovsky

"Today I can say unequivocally that the decisions made by the authorities on NTV, Russian Public TV and Dorenko are all linked in a single chain which I, of course, see as an encroachment upon and in effect a ban on freedom of speech in Russia," he told Ekho Moscow radio.

The media, he said, constituted the final obstacle to the creation of an authoritarian state.

"There is only one thing left, the fourth branch of power, as they describe the media. Now we are witnessing an attempt to seize it. Then it will all be over. An authoritarian, if not a totalitarian state, will be created."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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