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#5 - JRL 7027
Moscow Times
January 21, 2003
NTV: Feeling of Foreboding

With the abrupt firing of Boris Jordan, it is once again clear where Vladimir Putin's Kremlin stands on the role of national television.

True, there may have been many reasons for firing Jordan, a Russian-American who was appointed general director of NTV after Gazprom's takeover in April 2001 and of Gazprom-Media later that year.

For instance, he had what seems like a less than trusting relationship with his boss, Gazprom-Media board chairman Alexander Dybal, who says Jordan would not even let him into NTV studios.

And last month, NTV stepped on Gazprom's toes by airing allegations of corruption in Kazakhstan's oil and gas dealings.

Media insiders say it was his Western-style, business-only approach to running NTV that was his undoing. He didn't play the game.

But Jordan's recounting to The Washington Post of his last days reinforces what already seemed obvious: The Kremlin was not amused by NTV's coverage of the October hostage crisis and sent a message to Gazprom to get rid of him.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller informed Jordan of the decision the night before the Gazprom-Media board voted.

Boris Jordan makes a lousy poster boy for a free press, or for that matter for fair business practices, if you look back at his role in the tainted privatization schemes of the early 1990s.

But he turned NTV around financially and, against expectations, upheld his promise that NTV would continue to report the news independent of the Kremlin.

How funny it is that less than two years after Jordan played the villain in a fight for NTV that captured the world's attention, the U.S. State Department spokesman laments his departure by saying that under his direction "NTV has grown into one of the most lively, vibrant and independent voices on the Russian airwaves."

Jordan's real mission, though, was to restructure NTV so that Gazprom could sell it as part of a plan to rid the gas monopoly of noncore assets.

But Gazprom has dragged its feet, and it is now clear, if it wasn't before, that NTV will stay under state control at least through the March 2004 presidential election.

So much for the hope that at least one national television station in Russia could be run as a real business, striving for financial independence to guarantee its political independence.

The main question now is who will be chosen to shepherd NTV through the election season and whether NTV will join Channel One and Rossia in unstintingly promoting the incumbent to the exclusion of other candidates.

Putin's reaction to NTV's coverage of the Dubrovka siege shows how suspicious he is of independent media, particularly a television station with national reach. He sees it not as an institution essential for a democratic society but as an instrument that should be used to serve the state.

With this in mind, we predict the Kremlin will tolerate only a loyal and obedient NTV until Putin is safely installed for another four years, but we would like to be proven wrong.

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