| JRL Home | JRL Simple/Mobile | RSS | Newswire | Archives | JRL Newsletter | Support | About
Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Axe-Grinding Retrospectives on NTV Takeover

Kremlin Walls, Saint Basil'sDate: Tue, 31 May 2011
From: William Dunkerley (wdunkerley@comcast.net)
Subject: Axe-Grinding Retrospectives on NTV Takeover

Axe-Grinding Retrospectives on NTV Takeover
By William Dunkerley

William Dunkerley, a media business analyst and consultant, works extensively with media organizations in Russia and other post-communist countries, and has advised government leaders on strategies for building press freedom and a healthy media sector.

NTV, once a veritable media Camelot, proved to be no match for the powerful Kremlin. The results of this defeat have been tragic for Russian society.

These themes appeared in the Moscow Times editorial, "From Defiant to Dull in a Decade" (JRL 2011-#74). It was one of a flurry of similar recollection pieces that popped up in the media to mark the 10th anniversary of NTV's takeover by the government. But many of these articles paint a picture replete with mythology and devoid of key factors.

In reality, NTV was no idyllic media outlet serving the needs and interests of the Russian people. Instead, its owners appeared to use the mass media as a weapon to serve their own political and financial interests.

The recent retrospectives praise NTV's investigative coverage of corruption. But accounts presented by journalist Yelena Tregubova suggest possible ulterior motives for this coverage. Tregubova claims that NTV founder Vladimir Gusinsky commissioned journalists to do hatchet jobs on government officials who opposed his appropriation of state assets. After showing the reports to then-president Boris Yeltsin, Gusinsky would gain unimpeded access to the assets. "This looked like a courageous fight against corruption in high governmental circles by independent journalists," observed media expert Alexei Pankin.

Pankin added, "The media turned into nothing more than a weapon in the fight between various oligarchs for access to state coffers." That may explain the controversial loan of over $1 billion made to Gusinsky from state-controlled funds. Given that NTV and parent company Media Most were valued at a mere $200 million, it's clear that NTV was embroiled in some very non-transparent business dealings.

So describing the old NTV as an independent media outlet seems quite disingenuous. In truth, it was conscripted, not free -- and it apparently worked quite hard to serve its owners' far-flung business interests. Providing citizens with honest news didn't seem like much of a priority. The coverage may have been titillating to political wonks, foreign and domestic. But citizens in a democratic society need sources of truth about their government and leaders. That's far more important than lively discourse based on questionable motives.

The new NTV is no better than the old. There are just new masters at the helm.

Rather than evincing the might of the power vertical, the act of taking over NTV actually gave everyone a glimpse of the Kremlin's feelings of impotence. Then-president Vladimir Putin was reportedly intolerant of NTV reports that linked him to the mysterious apartment bombings of 1999. Some suggest those reports were partly the catalyst for the takeover. If true, Putin’s intolerance would likely be perceived a display of weakness, not strength. Likewise, the dramatic use of masked gunmen to take physical control of NTV's premises seems like gross overcompensation for self-perceived Kremlin weakness.

As to the unfortunate social impact? There are those who attempt to blame the NTV takeover for the overwhelmingly negative media milieu that has plagued Russia from the start. Former NTV scriptwriter Viktor Shenderovich called it a strangulation of the Russian media. Former Union of Journalists general director Igor Yakovenko claims that Russia is a changed country due to the takeover. These grandiose interpretations tend to ignore the greater context of business and political intrigue that surrounded NTV.

For now, the most lingering damage from the takeover is the mythology of NTV as a heroic figure. Russia doesn't need a return to oligarchic conscription of the media. It doesn't need the present media domination by a plethora of media bosses, both central and regional. What it needs is for the Kremlin to promote all the necessary factors for the emergence of genuine, consumer-centric news media. But when media outlets reduce the issue to polemics and mythology, it leaves little room for a constructive Kremlin response.

Keyword Tags:

Russia, Media - Russia News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

Bookmark and Share - Back to the Top -        


Bookmark and Share

- Back to the Top -        

  Follow Johnson's Russia List on Twitter Tweet