#6 - JRL 7027
Wall Street Journal
January 21, 2003
Press of the Power
"I would accept no attempt to influence NTV's editorial independence of journalistic freedom. If there is any such attempt I shall immediately step down." -- Boris Jordan, writing on these pages in April 2001
To succeed in doing business in Russia it helps to be bullish about what you can pull off. Boris Jordan, the American banker turned media mogul, has always been that. But his optimism ran up against an iron rule of mass media in Vladimir Putin's Russia: You are either a loyal lackey to the Kremlin and remain in its good graces; or you insist on independence and find yourself out of a job.
Mr. Jordan was fired from his post at Gazprom-Media on Friday and is expected to lose his remaining job as head of NTV, the television channel taken over by state-controlled Gazprom two years ago.
We have had our differences with Mr. Jordan, namely over whether there was ever any hope that a state-owned media outlet could escape editorial interference. He has been widely credited with restoring NTV to financial health. And while NTV lost the free-wheeling edge it had under self-exiled tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, programming standards and editorial independence have been well above those of its main state-owned competition.
Unfortunately, this happy state of affairs wasn't to be for long. The Kremlin was furious about NTV's extensive coverage of the disastrous Moscow theatre raid in October. After the raid, in which Russian counter-terrorism forces killed more hostages than the terrorist, the Russian parliament approved amendments to the country's media law that would heavily restrict coverage of "counter-terrorist operations," vaguely defined. President Putin vetoed the measure only after strong criticism, but he has since asked media leaders to draft their own code of conduct, self-censorship being much preferable to coercion.
With a national vote due at the end of the year, the Kremlin will want a docile media. It was a nice try, Mr. Jordan, but independent TV journalism never had much of a chance.