The new American-born boss of Russias only independent national TV network said yesterday he will avoid political agendas and focus on improving the bottom line of a company that has become a test case for press freedoms in the country.
Boris Jordan, named general director of NTV following a boardroom coup early last month, also predicted that Gazprom, the partially state-owned oil giant that is the networks controlling shareholder, will be forced to take a “massive writedown” on its investment and eventually relinquish its stake.
“I am continuing to put pressure on them for a sale,” Mr. Jordan said in Washington yesterday as part of a quick U.S. trip designed to combat the bad publicity surrounding his appointment. “Right now our ownership structure is dysfunctional.”
NTV under its previous owner, Vladimir Gusinsky, had been the one national television network regularly critical of the policies of President Vladimir Putin, including damning reports on the conflict in Chechnya. Mr. Gusinsky was jailed briefly last year by Russian tax authorities and faced constant legal battles even as he struggled with Gazprom for control of his media empire.
The United States, European governments and many private press watchdog groups protested the Kremlins campaign against Mr. Gusinsky, who fled the country and now lives in Spain.
In an address to the National Press Club earlier this month, Mr. Gusinsky accused the Kremlin of undermining his business empire, saying that press freedoms and private property are “no longer respected” under Mr. Putin.
But Mr. Jordan, referring to a just-released audit of the networks finances yesterday, said it was Mr. Gusinskys own massive borrowing and mismanagement that brought him down. He said Media-Most, Mr. Gusinskys holding company, has run up losses of $242 million since 1997 and faced $142 million in debts compared with revenues of about $80 million for the next six months.
“NTV in its current form is not an ongoing concern,” the audit said, a conclusion Mr. Jordan said would lead a Western enterprise to declare bankruptcy.
Mr. Jordan also criticized Mr. Gusinsky for taking sides in Russias bitter political feuds, a policy he said hurt the company when power shifted in the Kremlin.
NTV “was never an independent voice, ever,” Mr. Jordan contended. “Its leader always had a political agenda.”
NTV and other Media-Most outlets suffered mass defections after Mr. Jordan took control of the stations Moscow offices April 3. But the station has managed to retain a substantial news operation, including a popular anchorwoman who hosts the stations evening news program. The stations news budget has been cut from $94 million to $70 million under Mr. Jordan, but he said much of the cut reflects operating efficiencies and not reductions in the core news-gathering functions.
Alfred Kokh, the head of Gazproms media subsidiary, is a former government economics minister and an old associate of Mr. Putin from his days in St. Petersburg. But Mr. Jordan said yesterday he had not had any pressure from Gazprom officials to change his stations editorial policy, saying the negative international publicity surrounding the NTV fight had made his company “radioactive” to policy-makers trying to meddle.
The New York-born Mr. Jordan, just 35, is already a veteran of a decade of often-cutthroat Russian business and privatization wars in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
He said his biggest fear now is not the government but Russias powerful private business oligarchs, for whom the companys current estimated $300 million market value is “chump change.”
Mr. Jordan said yesterday his plan is to clean up the companys books, improve and expand its programming, and seek a major Western investor within the next 12 months.