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Leading journalists from Russia's NTV protest shake-up within station's management
January 30, 2003

MOSCOW (AP) - Leading journalists from Russia's NTV television protested a recent shake-up within the company Thursday by voting ``no confidence'' in the station's new management.

NTV anchor Kirill Poznyakov announced during the evening news that the station's ``governing board'' - including top anchors and journalists - had unanimously passed a no-confidence measure due to the new leadership's ``obvious incompetence.''

The company said in a statement that the station's charter does not envision a ``governing board'' and the group's decision has no legal weight, according to the Interfax news agency.

NTV has been at the center of debates on freedom of speech since 2001 when it was taken over by Gazprom, the government-connected natural gas monopoly. At the time, many observers said the takeover was a Kremlin attempt to rein in the station's critical news coverage. The latest shake-up occurred this month when American financier Boris Jordan, installed as NTV director by Gazprom, was ousted.

Gazprom appointed Nikolai Synkevich, a physician with no television experience, to take Jordan's place.

Leonid Parfyonov, the anchor of a popular Sunday news magazine on NTV, said the journalists were most incensed by the appointment of Alexei Zemsky as first deputy director. Parfyonov said Zemsky, who was earlier in charge of only entertainment programs, would have seniority over editor-in-chief Tatyana Mitkova, another popular anchor and a respected journalist.

``The company will go to seed with this kind of leadership,'' Parfyonov told TVS television.

TVS was formed recently by journalists who quit NTV in protest after the Gazprom takeover.

Media freedom advocates have connected Jordan's dismissal to NTV's coverage of an October hostage crisis at a Moscow theater. The siege ended with 129 captives dead, the vast majority killed by a narcotic gas used by Russian special forces to knock out the hostage-takers. NTV's assertive coverage of the event raised questions about the government's handling of the crisis.

Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to criticize NTV - without naming the station - a month after the hostage crisis, saying the storming of the theater had been compromised by the broadcast of images of troops massing just prior to the operation.

Government critics say the shake-up is also an attempt by the Kremlin to gain tighter control over TV stations in the run-up to parliamentary elections in the fall.

Liberal lawmaker Boris Nemtsov said the no-confidence vote was understandable. He told Interfax that the recent personnel decisions went against the interests of NTV shareholders and ``millions of viewers.''

Compared to the 2001 standoff, when NTV journalists made it the top story for months, the station's coverage was reserved on Thursday. Poznyakov announced the no-confidence vote more than 10 minutes into the news and did not make any further comment.

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