Protests against Kremlin control of broadcast media

New York, April 17, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed solidarity today with the more than 1000 Russian journalists and activists who protested the Kremlin’s control of television news reporting. The demonstrators rallied in downtown Moscow Sunday to mark the fifth anniversary of the hostile takeover by state gas monopoly Gazprom of the leading independent national television channel NTV. Several prominent television reporters dismissed for their critical news reporting in recent years joined the protest, local and international media reported.

“We worked so hard so that Russians could understand what was happening,” said Olga Romanova, a presenter for the Moscow television station Ren-TV who was dismissed in November for publicly protesting internal censorship at the channel. “Today there is no longer objective information on television,” she told Agence France-Presse.

Former NTV writer and presenter Viktor Shenderovich said the Kremlin’s control of television news reporting had obstructed the development of an independent judiciary and political opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to local press reports. Protesters carried posters that read, “Censorship Today, Dictatorship Tomorrow” and “Down with Kremlin-TV.”

Gazprom’s takeover of NTV from the Media-Most company led to significant staffing changes, a purge of prominent reporters, and a decline in criticism of government policies and reporting on the war in Chechnya. Government pressure on national newspapers and regional television stations increased once the Kremlin had consolidated control of national television news reporting.

“We share the concerns of our Russian colleagues,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “In the past five years President Putin has tightened his grip on the news media and all but stifled critical and independent reporting on his administration.”