CPJ meets with Gazprom Media chief

New York, March 6, 2001 — Alfred R. Kokh, general director of Russia’s Gazprom Media, visited the New York offices of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today to assert that his company’s long-running dispute with Vladimir Gusinsky’s NTV television network was purely a business matter.

In the course of a two-hour meeting, CPJ executive director Ann Cooper stressed that CPJ remains concerned about any outcome that might affect the editorial independence of NTV journalists and would continue to monitor developments.

Kokh laid out several scenarios by which Gazprom Media believes the dispute could be resolved, including a deal with a foreign investment consortium led by U.S. media executive Ted Turner. He claimed his primary goal was to recoup Gazprom’s investment in NTV, and argued that NTV’s journalistic independence and economic value would both be enhanced if no single shareholder held a controlling stake in the network.

NTV is the only independent national television network in Russia. NTV’s critical reporting on the policies of President Vladimir Putin’s government has frequently angered officials.

Many observers fear that a Gazprom takeover of NTV would allow the government to exercise de facto editorial control over the network, given the government’s 38 percent stake in the natural gas corporation Gazprom, which owns Gazprom Media.

In the past year, NTV has been subjected to punitive tax raids and interrogation of its employees. Gusinsky himself is currently under house arrest in Spain, facing possible extradition to face fraud charges in Russia.

Cooper cited state pressure on NTV as one of CPJ’s several concerns about deteriorating press freedom conditions in Russia. She told Kokh, “We’ll be watching very closely to see how things develop.”

Kokh was accompanied by Gazprom Media attorney Konstantin I. Gavrilov and by Helen Teplitskaia of the American-Russian Chamber of Commerce & Industry. CPJ board member and ABC Nightline correspondent David Marash joined the meeting by phone.