One of Russia's highest-profile media bosses has accepted a decision to be fired as head of a state-controlled media holding and said today he will also step down as director of its flagship television station.
Moscow, 21 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Speaking at a Moscow news conference today, U.S. investment banker Boris Jordan said he accepts the 17 January decision by the board of directors of Gazprom-Media holding to remove him as the company's chief. He said he will also step down as general director of its NTV television station as soon as a successor is named. "I declare my readiness to leave the post of general director of NTV and to begin the transfer of affairs to the person named by the shareholders [to succeed me]," Jordan said.
Jordan was hired in April 2001 to head Gazprom-Media, a subsidiary of the Gazprom natural-gas monopoly, after it took control of the media empire of tycoon Vladimir Gusinskii, a Kremlin opponent who now lives in exile.
Jordan brushed aside repeated questions about the reasons behind the move, saying the decision to terminate his three-year contract, drawn up last September, was within the rights of the board.
Jordan said he is a businessman and does not want to contribute to the politicization of Gazprom-Media's business. But observers say politics are the chief reason behind Jordan's ouster, as they were behind his hiring two years ago.
Gazprom officials say Jordan was fired because of differences in opinion over management strategy.
Industry insiders had long said Jordan's relationship with Gazprom management was deteriorating amid ownership struggles and that the Kremlin was upset with Jordan for his refusals to accommodate editorial suggestions.
Media analysts say that while Jordan is an unlikely symbol of free speech, his removal is a sure sign the Kremlin is once again cracking down on free speech in a parliamentary election year. The move against Jordan comes after President Vladimir Putin criticized NTV for its coverage of last October's hostage crisis in a Moscow theater.
In his comments today, Jordan said he had fulfilled promises he had made on taking command of NTV to turn it into a profitable business and on maintaining its independence. He said he guided the station away from financial catastrophe and that the channel turned a profit of $15 million last year. "I did everything that was asked of me, and did it well, I think. I'm very proud of my management team, which I, incidentally, asked to stay on in its entirety and continue to run the media holding. I would in no way want there to be any problem in the transfer of affairs and would like to see Gazprom-Media develop, because I think I made a big contribution to the company," Jordan said.
Under Jordan's control, NTV lost its "oppositionist" credentials and softened its tone, but even skeptics agreed that NTV continued to strive for independence, a difficult task in the state-dominated world of Moscow media.
NTV had earned increasingly higher praise from media analysts in recent months, especially during the hostage crisis, after which Putin publicly lashed out in a thinly veiled attack on NTV.
During a November meeting at the Kremlin, Putin accused a television channel, which he did not name, of showing live footage of special-operations forces preparing to storm the theater where Chechen rebels were holding some 800 hostages. Putin said the decision could have resulted in a "massive tragedy."
Jordan denies the footage was shown live.
Following Putin's election in 2000, state-controlled media have come under increasingly strict control, and those seen as disloyal to the Kremlin have been pushed out of their jobs. A number of independent media have faced ruinous lawsuits.
Jordan today refused to comment on the terms of his severance package, including the fate of 5 percent of NTV shares and another 5 percent of Gazprom-Media shares he was given during the holding's restructuring last September.
Observers speculate his compensation could run into the tens of millions of dollars.
Jordan, who is of Russian descent, first made his name in Russia after setting up the Moscow offices of CS First Boston investment bank in the early 1990s and helping organize the country's first mass privatization auctions, reaping huge profits. He then went on to found his own investment bank, where he became embroiled in several high-profile scandals.
Jordan said he plans to take a vacation with his family and that he will continue to do business in Russia, adding that he is "one of the biggest optimists" about the country's future.
Gazprom has long said it intends to sell its media holdings but has yet to do so.