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Kyrgyzstan: Pyramid TV Employees Question Source Of Takeover Attempt

Pyramid TV staff demonstrating against takeover (RFE/RL) An attempt appears to have been made on 10 December to assume control of the offices of Kyrgyzstan’s independent television station Pyramid. Apparently, the station has new owners who want to make changes. But any change in ownership is news to the station’s employees, who are demanding an investigation. Station employees are threatening to stage a hunger strike, supporters are vowing to demonstrate, and the country’s president is trying to keep his name out of the fiasco.

Prague, 14 December 2005 (RFE/RL) – The future of Pyramid television remains a mystery, as do details about the station's apparent new owners, and how they acquired a 50 percent stake in the company.

What is clear is that between 15 and 25 people claiming to be representatives of the new management entered the station early on 10 December and attempted to seize control. The arrival of government officials and ordinary citizens repelled the attempt, and the intruders left.

One of those who arrived at the station that morning was Kabai Karabekov, a member of parliament. "People from the [Kyrgyz] White House came and said, 'Now, this is our company.' They came in the name of [President Kurmanbek] Bakiev. The whole company, the editorial staff, [said] that now the company belonged to a new family," Karabekov told RFE/RL.

Employees of the station say the new owners have told them they want to change the channel’s format from mainly news and information programs to light entertainment, such as music and drama.

Offending The Government?

Pyramid chief Yelena Chernyavskaya, who says she's still in charge, at least as of today, believes the incident is related to the station’s critical coverage of Bakiev, who came to power in late March after protests chased longtime leader Askar Akaev from power.

Some organizations support Chernyavskaya’s view that the new government in Kyrgyzstan is interfering with independent media critical of government policies. But presidential press secretary Nadyr Momunov denied that in comments to RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service.

"You know, the TV company Pyramid is a private enterprise. There is no state share in the company. There is no direct or indirect connection of [Bakiev] to this conflict," Momunov said.

Others believe the ownership problem originated in the Akaev regime. Last year, while Akaev was still president, a company called Aeropag loaned Pyramid money. Pyramid put up a 50 percent stake in the company as collateral. Chernyavskaya says the loan was not due to be paid off for two years. Aeropag has been linked to Aidar Akaev, the son of the former president. Aeropag apparently sold off this 50 percent share to a subsidiary Kyrgyz company called Media Invest earlier this month.

Just Business

Ilarion Adamyan, a representative of Media Invest, said Pyramid belongs to Media Invest and denied there is any political maneuvering behind the acquisition, describing it as a simple and legal business deal. "We state that all accusations against our company are empty words. We also state that all activities of our company are done absolutely within the laws of the Kyrgyz Republic," he said.

Adamyan said that Media Invest is prepared to defend its financial interests in the television station in court. He declined to talk more about the company or its other holdings.

Who To Trust?

On 12 December, President Bakiev ordered Deputy Prime Minister Adakhan Madumarov to investigate the events surrounding the station.

Pyramid TV staff say they do not believe Madumarov will conduct such an investigation fairly. Some 20 employees of the station demonstrated outside the parliament building in protest.

Some wore bandages over their mouths, symbolic of what they say is an attempt by the government to silence its critics. Station employees are demanding to know more about the deal, which has apparently left half of Pyramid in the hands of Media Invest. They also want to know more about Media Invest itself.

Bakiev has vowed to cut state support for the country's media outlets and to make all Kyrgyz media independent. The recent experiences of the already independent Pyramid TV indicate such efforts are likely to be fraught with problems.

(Aidanbek Tashkenbaev of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)

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