New York, June 2, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned by reports that the popular news program “Namedni” (Recently) on the television channel NTV was canceled under government pressure. Leonid Parfyonov, anchor of the show, was also fired, according to local and international reports.
On Sunday, May 30, Parfyonov was scheduled to air an interview with the widow of slain Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who was killed by a car bomb explosion in the Persian Gulf country of Qatar last February. Two Russian intelligence service agents are currently on trial for his murder in Qatar’s capital, Doha.
Parfyonov told the Moscow daily Kommersant on Monday, May 31, that the interview with Yandarbiyeva was cut at the last minute from the Sunday evening broadcast of “Namedni” in the European part Russia. The journalist also told the daily that NTV made the cut at the request of the Russian intelligence services. The interview with Yandarbiyeva had already been aired Sunday afternoon in Russia’s far eastern provinces, during prime time.
Kommersant also published the letter ordering the segment to be lifted, which was written by NTV Deputy General Director Alexander Gerasimov.
After Parfyonov’s interview in Kommersant, the journalist’s show was canceled, and he was fired. NTV officials said today that Parfyonov was dismissed for breaching his contract and violating corporate policy.
“The cancellation of ‘Namedni’ and the dismissal of Parfyonov is extremely distressing because a critical voice has been silenced amid allegations of direct government censorship,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “This incident suggests that President Putin’s so-called managed democracy is becoming increasingly managed and far less democratic.”
In 2001, the state gas monopoly Gazprom took over NTV, which had until that point been critical of government policies, particularly the war in Chechnya. After that, the channel has begun to emphasize positive news and focus heavily on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meetings with his Cabinet and international leaders. Also in 2001, NTV’s then owner, exiled media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, was charged with fraud, tax evasion, and financial mismanagement.
Parfyonov’s news show “Namedni” was one of the few programs that offered an alternative view on Russia’s current affairs. This is not the first time that NTV management has canceled a “Namedni” segment just before airtime. In November 2003, NTV’s general director canceled the European broadcast of an interview with Yelena Tregubova, a former Kremlin reporter and author of a controversial memoir Tales of a Kremlin Digger, which criticized Putin’s administration for muzzling the press in Russia.