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U.S. boss of Russian TV out as Kremlin tightens grip
January 21, 2003
By Larisa Sayenko

MOSCOW (Reuters) - U.S. millionaire Boris Jordan resigned Tuesday as head of one of Russia's top television channels after Kremlin discontent prompted his dismissal from a second post at the station's holding company last week.

Jordan's departure from liberal NTV and state-dominated Gazprom-Media was linked to the channel's coverage of last October's deadly hostage siege. Analysts and opposition politicians saw it as part of a Kremlin campaign to clamp down on the media ahead of parliamentary elections this year.

"Today I received the official notice of my dismissal from my position as general director of Gazprom-Media," Jordan told a news conference. "I think I cannot stay in this position any longer. I have said that I am ready to leave NTV."

Gazprom-Media, an offshoot of gas monopoly Gazprom, said Jordan's departure was prompted purely by strategy differences. But the U.S. State Department said last week the dismissal could be a "serious blow to Russia's independent media."

Immediately after the October theater siege, President Vladimir Putin accused NTV, Russia's third most popular channel, of being irresponsible in its coverage of hostage-taking.

In a meeting of Russian media -- to which NTV was not invited -- Putin accused top editors of jeopardizing hostage safety in a scramble to raise ratings.

But Jordan declined to elaborate on the reason behind his departure: "I do not want to mix NTV in political intrigue."

NTV has been a cause celebre since Gazprom took over the channel less than a month after Putin was elected president in 2000, though the energy giant says it was a commercial affair.

Since the takeover, marked by court hearings and bailiff raids, NTV has toned down criticism of the Kremlin, though it remains the most liberal of Russia's main television channels, now all state-controlled.

Jordan, born in the United States of Russian parents and known for ruthless management, came to the debt-ridden channel shortly after the takeover. Throughout his tenure, Jordan said his interest was purely business, not politics. In 2002 NTV became profitable for the first time since it was founded.

"Unbiased news -- this is not just a sentence, it is the success of NTV's business as news is our main product," he said.

Analysts said his dismissal was politics over business.

"Jordan was necessary as a neutral face and now he has fulfilled his function," Yuri Korgonyuk of the INDEM think-tank said. "Moreover, parliamentary elections are coming up and it is important to tame television channels."

Yulia Latynina, a commentator at the liberal Novaya Gazeta, said the affair showed that television "is the only economic area which the president personally controls. It is his patch. Any incorrect behavior by a television channel is a personal insult to the president."

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