- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2001

Embattled Russian media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky yesterday accused the Kremlin of sabotaging a buyout bid by CNN founder Ted Turner that would have preserved Russias only independent national TV network.
Speaking to a National Press Club audience on World Press Freedom Day, Mr. Gusinsky said the effort by the government of President Vladimir Putin to block Mr. Turners bid reflected a Russia in which press freedoms, private property and basic human rights "are no longer respected."
"The Russian government did everything it could to make sure Mr. Turner did not invest in the Russian media market, specifically our properties," said Mr. Gusinsky, whose Media-Most empire at one time included the NTV television network, the influential Segodnya newspaper, and Itogi, a weekly newsmagazine produced in partnership with the U.S. magazine Newsweek.
"There was zero probability that the government could influence (Mr. Turners) editorial policy," Mr. Gusinsky said, speaking through a translator. "It was exactly because of that the Russian powers did all they could to prevent Mr. Turner from coming to NTV."
Mr. Gusinsky lost a bitter battle for control of his Media-Most properties last month to a subsidiary of the Russian gas giant Gazprom, in which the Russian government holds a nearly 40 percent stake. Gazprom charged that Mr. Gusinsky had mismanaged his debt-ridden media empire and staged a boardroom coup to seize control of the major Media-Most properties.
But Mr. Gusinsky and his allies in the West say the campaign against him was politically motivated, spurred by his networks critical reporting of the war in Chechnya. Russian legal and tax authorities staged multiple raids on Media-Most properties, even as Mr. Gusinsky tangled with Gazprom for financial control.
"For Russians, there is no question who is behind the struggle over NTV," said Igor Malashenko, vice chairman of Media-Most, earlier this week. "Its Mr. Putin. Period."
Gazprom has since closed down Segodnya and fired most of the staff of Itogi. Much of the NTV editorial staff migrated to a smaller rival channel, known as TV6. Mr. Turners group has said it is reassessing its offer for a minority stake in Media-Most in light of the takeover war.
The United States and many Western European governments have called the NTV fight a test case for press freedoms in Russia, one that Mr. Putins government has failed.
In New York yesterday, the Committee to Protect Journalists named Mr. Putin to its 2001 list of the "Ten Worst Enemies of the Press," alongside such figures as Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Chinese President Jiang Zemin and President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
In Moscow, the Russian Union of Journalists issued its own statement condemning the decline of press freedoms under Mr. Putin.
"Attacks on freedom of expression are not only becoming more determined, but they are trying to convince us that there are things more important than this freedom and label the press as the enemy," the organization said. "Recent events do not encourage one to view the future with any optimism."
Mr. Gusinsky last month beat back an attempt by Russian prosecutors to extradite him from Spain, where he had fled late last year, to face charges back home of fraud and embezzlement. Yesterday, he said the charges were without merit, but refused to detail his financial dealings or discuss his future plans.
But Mr. Malashenko this week predicted that the Kremlin would go after TV6, the new network where many of the NTV journalists now work.
"The success of TV6 would be an incredible humiliation to the Kremlin," Mr. Malashenko said. "I dont know how far the government will go to shut it down, but I know they are going to try."


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