- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 18, 2003

American-born investor Boris Jordan has been ousted as head of Russia's largest independent television network, bringing fresh warnings from the State Department about the state of press freedoms in Russia.
The board of directors of Gazprom-Media, a subsidiary of the giant Russian gas monopoly, voted unanimously to remove Mr. Jordan as head of NTV, which has carried some of the most pointed coverage of Russian President Vladimir Putin among the country's leading television networks.
The government has a large minority stake in Gazprom and there have been repeated questions about the role of the Kremlin in trying to muzzle NTV reporters.
If there was a government role in Mr. Jordan's dismissal, "this would constitute a serious blow to Russia's independent media," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who said the Bush administration would be following the situation "very closely."
Former Gazprom General Director Alexander Dybal, who will replace Mr. Jordan as head of the media subsidiary, cited differences over "corporate management and business-development strategies" as the reasons for sacking Mr. Jordan.
Asked if further personnel changes were expected at NTV itself, Mr. Dybal said, "Yes, of course you can [expect them]."
NTV was at the center of a flap late last year after Mr. Putin objected to critical coverage of the seizure of a Moscow theater by Chechen rebels, in which more than 115 hostages died after a police rescue raid.
Mr. Putin blocked a bill that would have set stricter media guidelines, but at the same time gave broad hints that he expected Russian journalists to police their own reporting.
"Probably the decision was somehow affected by the rather independent position that NTV and Jordan assumed while reporting on the latest events," Russian Union of Journalists Secretary-General Igor Yakovenko told Russia's Interfax news agency.
Ironically, Mr. Jordan came to the NTV job under a similar cloud of controversy. He replaced Vladimir Gusinsky, a fierce Kremlin critic, in April 2001 after Gazprom declared Mr. Gusinsky in default on a series of loans.
Mr. Boucher said that under Mr. Jordan, "NTV has grown into one of the most lively, vibrant and independent voices on the Russian airwaves.
"We strongly hope that NTV will retain this independent spirit under its new management."


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