18 February 2002, Volume 2, Number 7
ARMENIACABINET APPROVES NEW DRAFT MEDIA LAW. The Armenian government approved on 7 February a new draft media bill that would abolish the present requirement that all media outlets register with the Justice Ministry, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Instead, media outlets will merely have to apply for a license to operate. Deputy Justice Minister Ashot Abovian said the draft was sent to leading editors two months ago, but that the ministry has received no feedback from them. But at a seminar in Yerevan last month, Mesrop Harutiunian, a former director of the state-run news agency Armenpress, condemned the proposed licensing system as an "inadmissible" attempt by the state to retain maximum control over the media, according to Noyan Tapan on 31 January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)
BELARUSPROSECUTOR WANTS DEATH PENALTY FOR ALLEGED KIDNAPPERS OF JOURNALIST. Prosecutor Fyodar Shvedau on 13 February demanded death sentences for the four suspected kidnappers of journalist Dzmitry Zavadski, who has been missing since July 2000, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. According to Shvedau, former Interior Ministry officers Valery Ihnatovich and Maksim Malik, as well as Alyaksey Huz and Syarhey Saushkin, are guilty on seven counts, including murder, abduction, and robbery. However, Syarhey Tsurko, the lawyer representing Zavadski's wife during the trial in the Minsk Regional Court, said the defendants' involvement in kidnapping Zavadski has not been proven. "It may turn out that those involved in Zavadski's disappearance will be executed, while unanswered questions will remain. There is some evidence [of their guilt], but it is unconvincing from the viewpoint of the Criminal Code," Tsurko commented. Two defectors from the Belarusian Prosecutor-General's Office said last year that Zavadski was kidnapped and murdered by a government-sponsored death squad following an order from Security Council Secretary Viktar Sheyman, who is now Belarus's prosecutor-general. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
BULGARIAFORMER COMMUNIST INFORMER SACKED FROM MEDIA COUNCIL. A member of Bulgaria's electronic media regulatory council was sacked on 11 February after a commission charged with studying the files of the communist secret service revealed him as a former agent, AFP reported. Vesselin Stoikov, one of the nine members of the Electronic Media Council that supervises radio and television, denied the accusation and claimed it was politically motivated. The law on radio and television stipulates that communist secret service collaborators may not serve on the Electronic Media Council. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)
CZECH REPUBLICWEEKLY'S COMPLAINT AGAINST GOVERNMENT 'DEFINITELY SHELVED.' Prosecutor Zdenka Galkova told CTK on 12 February that the appeal by "Respekt" Editor in Chief Petr Holub against an earlier decision to shelve his complaint against the government has been rejected and that the case is now "definitely closed." Holub said in response that he cannot understand the reasoning of the decision and that he intends to pursue other means to "seek satisfaction." Following the government's decision to sue "Respekt" for libel, Holub lodged a complaint against the cabinet for "incitement of hatred" and limiting the freedom of expression. The government's complaint against "Respekt" has also been shelved. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
HUNGARYTESCO MOVES TO BAN INFAMOUS ANTI-SEMITIC TRACT. The headquarters of Tesco International in the United Kingdom has taken steps to ban the sale of Henry Ford's book, "The International Jew," which is banned in several countries for its anti-Semitic content, "Magyar Nemzet" reported on 12 February. Hungarian-language editions of the book were available in Tesco's Szekesfehervar and Miskolc outlets. The American industrialist claimed in the book, published in the 1920s, that there was an international Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. Ford reportedly kept a portrait of Adolf Hitler on the wall of his study, even while his company was the U.S. army's largest supplier during World War II, according to the Hungarian daily. Oszkar Egri, a lawyer representing Hungary's Jewish Federation, said the organization is preparing a press statement on the sale of the book in Hungary's Tesco supermarkets. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)
KAZAKHSTANJOURNALISTS AND JUDGES LACK A COMMON LANGUAGE. Libel and slander were the main subject of civil cases against the media in Kazakhstan's courts between 1996 and 2000. This trend can be seen in a digest of court decisions, "A journalist at the bar," issued in Almaty in 2001. (Media Insight Central Asia, November-December 2001)
KYRGYZSTANTHE SLOW DECAY OF THE DAILY PRESS. The daily newspaper market is on the decline. Now, three of the oldest state-owned newspapers in Osh have suffered the same fate as almost all of Kyrgyzstan's regional newspapers: they had to cut back production and are issued only once a week. (Media Insight Central Asia, November-December 2001)
OFFICIALS IMPOSE FINES ON JOURNALISTS VIA THE COURTS. For Kyrgyz journalists it is sometimes easier to go to jail than to pay the fines imposed by courts. Even President Askar Akaev admits that the state of justice in the country is at such a level, that the vast majority of Kyrgyz citizens have no faith in it. (Media Insight Central Asia, November-December 2001)
REPORTER SENTENCED UNDER ODD CIRCUMSTANCES. Samagan Orozaliev, a journalist from southern Kyrgyzstan, was sentenced to nine years in prison. The court ruled that, using his profession as a journalist, he blackmailed a local politician-businessman. The case went unreported in the local media. (Media Insight Central Asia, November-December 2001)
RUSSIAMILITARY SUPREME COURT ANNULS LIST OF STATE SECRETS, BUT PASKO AND OTHERS REMAIN IN CUSTODY... The Collegium of the Military Supreme Court favored the appeal filed by Grigorii Pasko's lawyers on 12 February, ruling out as "null and void" the Defense Ministry's list of state secrets used as the basis for sentencing the military journalist and environmentalist to four years in prison for providing such information to Japan, Russian news agencies reported. However, the decision will not affect Pasko's fate, or others who have been imprisoned for espionage for providing information found on the list. They include: Moscow businessman Viktor Kalyagin, who was sentenced last October to 14 years in prison for providing information to the United States; and scientists Igor Sutyagin and Vladimir Danilov who are accused of divulging military secrets and espionage. Meanwhile, Naum Nim, the spokesman for a public committee in defense of Pasko, told "Izvestiya" on 12 February he cannot exclude the possibility that a new trial will be set in Pasko's case -- which in practical terms would mean an extension of his time in prison. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
...AND GIVES PASKO ADDITIONAL VICTORY BUT FSB DISAGREES. The Supreme Court on 13 February found valid the second appeal by lawyers representing military journalist and environmental activist Grigorii Pasko and recognized as illegal the Defense Ministry's 1990 directive that bans servicemen with clearance from having unauthorized contacts with foreigners, RIA-Novosti reported on 13 February. However, a Federal Security Service (FSB) officer involved in the Pasko case and who refused to give his name said that neither this nor previous decisions of the court are likely to increase the chances that Pasko will be released. On 14 February, Aleksandr Yegorkin, head of the FSB's chief investigative unit at the Pacific Fleet, told reporters in Vladivostok that the court's recent decision are not relevant for the Pasko case, since the law on state secrets was not repealed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
RUSSIAN MILITARY THREATENS TO STRIP JOURNALIST OF CREDENTIALS IN CHECHNYA... "Novaya Gazeta" journalist Anna Politkovskaya is in danger of losing her press accreditation to work in Chechnya, RIA-Novosti reported on 11 February, citing the operational headquarters of the Russian military in Chechnya. Politkovskaya arrived in the Shatoi Raion in southern Chechnya on 9 February, whereupon she was detained by Russian military officials for violating the rules under which she has press accreditation to work in that area, ntvru.com reported on 11 February. The next day, she went off in an unknown direction without the permission of military commanders. Politkovskaya was detained almost a year ago by Russian military officials for traveling in Chechnya without required documents. In October of 2001 she fled to the West because of threats she received in connection with an article she wrote suggesting that a helicopter full of senior Russian military officials was shot down by a Russian serviceman. Politkovskaya's recently published book, "A Dirty War" (Harvill Press: 2001), was critical of Russian military officials' conduct in Chechnya. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)
...WHO TURNS UP IN INGUSHETIA... Politkovskaya, whom Russian military forces in Chechnya had previously reported as missing, has turned up in Ingushetia and was expected to fly to Moscow on 12 February, Ekho Moskvy reported on 11 February. Her colleague at "Novaya Gazeta," Vyacheslav Izmailov, told the radio station that "we don't know how she wound up in Ingushetia, but she is coming and will explain things herself." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)
�AND CONTRADICTS REPORTS FROM MILITARY. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio on 13 February, Politkovskaya denied earlier news reports about her detention by military officers in Chechnya, ntvru.com reported. According to Politkovskaya, the main reason that rumors about her detention were spread was because during her trip to Chechnya she had gathered information "from both sides -- from the residents of the village and from the soldiers." Politkovskaya said that in one village in Shatoi Raion she heard an account of "six civilians in the village in Shatoi Raion [who] were killed by members of a Spetsnaz detachment of the GRU, as a result of which 28 children were orphaned. They were killed and then set on fire -- among them was the pregnant director of a local school." Politkovskaya added that her journalist accreditation documents were in full order and were checked by everyone including a military prosecutor, whom she interviewed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
LIBERALS INTRODUCE PROPOSED AMENDMENT AGAINST MONOPOLIZATION OF MASS MEDIA. Boris Nemtsov, the leader of the Union of Rightist Forces, introduced to the State Duma on 12 February an amendment to the Law on Mass Media that would prohibit any single entity -- including the state -- from establishing more than one mass media outlet of the same type and profile, nns.ru reported. Nemtsov suggested that such a law should go into force beginning next year so that all mass media outlets not currently in compliance could be by 1 January 2004. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
POPULAR PROTESTS CONTINUE OVER TV-6 AND PASKO CASES. In many cities throughout Russia in January, the public protested against Kremlin actions and voiced its support for TV-6 and the kind of independent news it represented. The daily "Novye izvestiya" asked its readers to submit claims in defense of TV-6 to the Russian courts, the European Court on Human Rights, and international human rights organizations. Members of the journalists' community, human rights organizations, and liberal and democratic parties and movements organized various actions in defense of freedom of expression: meetings, pickets, collective letters in defense of Grigorii Pasko and TV-6, collective addresses to legislative bodies, and hotlines for readers, listeners, and viewers of the media. Actions were held in Yekaterinburg, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kaliningrad, Rostov-on-Don, and Kamchatka, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) reported. Nevertheless, several popular Moscow newspapers observed that this January's popular protests mobilized fewer people than similar actions held last year in support of NTV. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," January 2002)
WHAT WILL COME AFTER TV-6? The Media Ministry has set 27 March as the deadline for tenders for broadcasting on the TV-6 frequency. Several TV companies, including Avtorskoe Televidenie, 7TV, Klass, and the TV-6 stock company have declared they will compete, CJES reported. According to the CJES, since over half of those who will review the bids are high-level officials, it is more than likely that the government will be the winner. Sources close to the Media Ministry have suggested that TV-6's frequency may be distributed among several TV companies. This is very likely, reports the CJES, because the state cannot afford to support one more TV station. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," January 2002)
OLIGARCHS CONSIDER BACKING NEW TV CHANNEL. "Vedomosti" reported on 11 February that a group of Russia's most well-known oligarchs, such as MDM-Bank head Chairman Aleksandr Mamut, Siberian Aluminum head Oleg Deripaska, Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, former Sibneft head Roman Abramovich, and former Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh, have agreed to invest $20 million in a bid to win the tender for TV-6's broadcasting license for TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev and his team. Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii and Interros Chairman Vladimir Potanin were involved in negotiations but decided not to participate, according to the daily, because they approached the investment purely from a business point of view. According to the daily, the consortium of oligarchs was formed at the request of presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin. Kiselev has so far refused to comment on any negotiations regarding the tender "Kommersant-Daily" also reported on 9 February that an oligarch consortium is being formed to bid for TV-6, but that report said the initiator was Chubais. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)
ST. PETERSBURG COMPANY TO COMPETE IN TV-6 TENDER... St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev has discussed with President Vladimir Putin the possibility of transferring control of TV-6 to the St. Petersburg Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, Ekho Moskvy radio reported on 8 February. However, he did not report on how Putin responded to his suggestion. When asked whether he meant that a tender should not be held, Yakovlev responded by saying that "a certain order exists in the country, and I cannot tell you now how the issue will be considered within the framework of this order." Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg company's board chairman, Aleksandr Potekhin, confirmed that his company will participate in the upcoming tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights. Also on 8 February, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii in a press conference in Moscow appeared to criticize the idea of creating a sports channel on the basis of TV-6. He said that the idea "should be discussed and seriously examined, but there is no analogous example in world broadcasting of a separate sports channel operated in the meter frequency range." He noted that to reach the widest audience, the channel should focus on "sports, youth, and entertainment." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)
..AS TV-6 WORKERS GIVEN THE PINK SLIP. Regional television affiliates of TV-6 have received a letter from the federal Media Ministry, informing them that they may for the time being fill the free airtime created by the disappearance of TV-6 in Moscow with their own programming, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 February. They are also free to rebroadcast the sports programming from NTV-Plus that is currently airing. The same day, workers at TV-6 received official notification that they should consider themselves fired as of 11 February, ntvru.com reported, citing presscenter.ru. Meanwhile, in an interview with "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 8 February, State Duma Information Policy Committee Chairman Konstantin Vetrov (LDPR) charged that a "permanent" smear campaign against Media Minister Mikhail Lesin is being waged "simply because he is the media minister." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)
LUKOIL CHOOSES A BID TO BACK FOR TV-6... Viktor Merezhko, a popular film director and TV personality, announced on 12 February that LUKoil-Garant will be the main sponsor of his TV-VI corporation's bid to win the tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights, Interfax reported. LUKoil-Garant, which is a minority shareholder in TV-6, originally sought the station's liquidation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
�NEW 'TV-VI' JUST SOUNDS LIKE THE FIRST. Viktor Merezhko announced on 7 February that he has registered the name of a new television company that sounds identical to TV-6 but uses Roman numerals -- TV-VI. The former TV-6 cofounder also said he submitted an application that the new entity be given TV-6's broadcasting frequency. Merezhko, who is known as a Putin loyalist, made his name in the 1980's when he anchored the popular Soviet Television show "Cinema Panorama." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February)
BORIS JORDAN WANTS TO OWN EKHO MOSKVY... In an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 13 February, Gazprom-Media General Director Boris Jordan expressed his personal interest in obtaining shares in Ekho Moskvy. He added that while he still does not know who will purchase Gazprom-Media's shares in the radio station, he has been trying to attract Western investors. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 8 February, Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov suggested that Jordan is trying to pursue an "inside deal" with regard to the radio station. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
...AS RADIO'S STAFF CONTEMPLATES MOVE TO NEW STATION... Jordan and Venediktov met on 11 February to discuss Venediktov's announcement on 8 February that he will resign if the station's board of directors is changed. Venediktov told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that day that he received a document from a Cyprus-based sister company of Gazprom-Media, Leadville Investments, that proposes a change of the board of directors of Ekho Moskvy so that it includes only representatives of Gazprom-Media and NTV. According to Venediktov, former Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh promised earlier that the board would have three seats for Gazprom, three for Vladimir Gusinsky's representatives, and three for journalists from Ekho Moskvy. Venediktov told listeners on 9 February that he and his staff will seek to form a new station. Gazprom-Media press secretary Aelita Yefimova told RIA-Novosti that she could not specify what the results, if any, were of the 11 February meeting. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)
...AND MANAGEMENT DECIDES TO HEDGE ITS BETS. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 11 February, Venediktov discussed the results of his meeting with Jordan earlier that day. According to Venediktov, he and Jordan agreed that a shareholders meeting will be held in June at which time Gazprom will declare its decision whether or not to sell its shares. They also agreed that the future board of directors will be elected on a proportional basis -- five seats for the shareholders with a controlling interest, three for Ekho Moskvy's journalists, and one for Vladimir Gusinsky -- and with its quota, Ekho Moskvy will nominate former Economy Minister Yevgenii Yasin to the board. Meanwhile, Gazprom-Media official Oleg Sapozhnikov confirmed Venediktov's summary of the negotiations' results in an interview with RFE/RL. Also on 11 February, journalists at Ekho Moskvy held a meeting at which they decided to participate in the tender for Radio Arsenal's frequency, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 February. According to Venediktov, if Gazprom decides to sell its shares in Ekho Moskvy to that station's journalists, then they will operate two radio stations. Otherwise, he and many of his colleagues will leave. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)
DUMA DEPUTIES SAY THEY WANT A SPORTS CHANNEL. Several State Duma deputies headed by the People's Deputy group leader Gennadii Raikov intend to suggest that the State Duma appeal to President Putin asking him to consider the possibility of making TV-6 a sports channel, Interfax reported on 12 February. Raikov announced the group's intention following a meeting of the coordination council of the pro-presidential Duma groups -- Unity, Fatherland-All Russia, Russian Regions, and People's Deputy. Raikov added that the sports channel project is supported by this "coalition of four." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH CREATES CLUB OF RELIGIOUS JOURNALISTS. Aleksandr Shepkov, spokesman for the pro-Kremlin journalists' association Media Union, which is headed by Aleksandr Lyubimov, has announced that his organization has created a club of Russian Orthodox journalists as the first stage in promoting unity among reporters writing about this confession, RIA-Novosti reported on 13 February. Meanwhile, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Publishing Department, Sergei Chapnin, said his Church organized the club to unite journalists working for 600 publications belonging to the Church. This is the first step towards creation of a unified mass media holding of the Russian Orthodox Church, he added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February)
PRESS FREEDOMS GOOD, STURGEON BETTER. Speaking at the international conference "Power of Press and Pressure of Power" in Moscow, which was organized by Harvard University and Moscow State University along with the Union of Rightist Forces, Media Minister Lesin said he "would tolerate opposition mass media in the country providing that every journalist acted responsibility." The BBC commented on 9 February that only the Western participants were serious about the topic of the conference. The spirit of the Russian side was better expressed by the head of the National Association of Broadcasters, Eduard Sagalaev, who said he "likes freedom of press, but sturgeon more," polit.ru reported on 9 February. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)
MINISTER ASKS MEDIA TO KEEP MUM ON HIGH RUSSIAN INFLATION RATE. The optimistic prognosis made by the government at the beginning of the year concerning the reduction of Russia's inflation rate from 18 percent to 12-14 percent was groundless and will certainly be revised upward based on January's economic indicators, "Ekspert," No. 6, reported. The monthly said that the rise in inflation in January was stimulated by the increase of utilities tariffs by up to 150 percent in some cases. Meanwhile "Kommersant-Daily" wrote on 8 February that inflation in January reached 30 percent, and that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov privately asked the mass media not to circulate the news in order to prevent the "wrong interpretation" of the situation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)
SLANDER STILL 'SUITS' OFFICIALS AGAINST MEDIA. In January, high-level officials, especially in the regions, continued to express their resentment of the press by bringing suits claiming that their honour, dignity, or business reputation has been defamed. This month, the Kirov Oblast Governor V. Sergeenko, Department for Support of Entrepreneurship of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Director V. Bulanov, and Department of Interior of Kemerovo Oblast head A. Vinogradov all followed suit -- and filed suit. A new trend is that libel or slander suits are being brought based on press publications, observes the CJES. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Bulletin," January 2002)
SERBIAMIXED REACTIONS TO TRIAL IN FORMER YUGOSLAVIA. The media and many politicians throughout former Yugoslavia followed the developments in The Hague on 12 February carefully, as did many ordinary people, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. But with the exception of some people who were directly affected by Milosevic's war crimes, most people seemed more interested in getting on with their daily affairs. The issue of war crimes is generally not one that hurts or helps politicians throughout a region in which most people are concerned primarily with their standard of living and their future. In Belgrade, the Yugoslav federal parliament adjourned so that deputies could follow the proceedings on television. More than 1,000 journalists covered the trial from The Hague. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
RFE/RL JOURNALIST ELECTED TO HEAD JOURNALISM GROUP. Milica Lucic-Cavic of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service was elected president of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS) in Belgrade on 9 February. She stressed that her first priority will be resolving the status of professional journalists there. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)
SLOVAKIAPREMIER'S BROTHER DENIES WRONGDOING. Miroslav Dzurinda, the brother of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, said on 12 February that the media campaign launched against him is in fact aimed at discrediting the premier, CTK reported. Miroslav Dzurinda denied that any illegalities were committed in connection with his purchase of a luxury flat from the Slovak railway company ZSR, where he is employed in a managerial post. He said he intends to sue newspapers who allege otherwise, and to donate the compensation damages to a children's oncological clinic. Premier Dzurinda has asked the Supreme Audit Office to investigate the case. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February)
TAJIKISTANWHO IS THE BEST JOURNALIST? Public opinion polls on the best journalists were held in Tajikistan. The two polls conducted by different organizations have produced strikingly different results. This has led to an open debate on what makes one journalist better than the other. (Media Insight Central Asia, November-December 2001)
ON THE LEGAL RIGHT NOT TO USE LEGAL RIGHTS. Tajik journalists often do not exercise their rights. Frightened by the last decade of violence against journalists, they may choose the path of self-censorship. (Media Insight Central Asia, November-December 2001)
TURKMENISTAN'ONE PEOPLE, ONE COUNTRY, ONE VOICE -- TURKMENBASHI.' The Turkmen Constitution bestows many freedoms on its media, but, in reality, the state's monopoly over the press ensures that with few exceptions it toes the government line. (Media Insight Central Asia, November-December 2001)
UZBEKISTANMEDIA CAN CRITICIZE AUTHORITIES, BUT AT LOCAL LEVEL. The mechanism providing for the media's legal protection via the civil courts doesn't work. Critical reports and journalistic investigations have almost altogether disappeared from the press, as well as from television and radio programs. (Media Insight Central Asia, November-December 2001)
REGIONALMEDIA INSIGHT CENTRAL ASIA. The latest electronic issue of Media Insight Central Asia is available on the web at http:// www.cimera.org/ with a special issue dedicated to media and justice in Central Asia. A sample version of the complete issue can be obtained in PDF format by sending a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MAJOR NEW HURDLES ON THE PATH TO MEDIA FREEDOM IN CENTRAL ASIA. Journalists from all five Central Asian countries gathered in Almaty to discuss the current problems of the media in the region. The aftermath of 11 September and the building of media monopolies dictated a highly interesting agenda. (Media Insight Central Asia, November-December 2001)
END NOTEPROMISES, PROMISES
By Julie A. Corwin
As the controversy over TV-6 continues, a new conflict over the last remaining element in Vladimir Gusinsky's Media-MOST empire flared anew. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 8 February, Ekho Moskvy Editor IN Chief Aleksei Venediktov said that he received that day a document from a Cyprus-based sister company of Gazprom-Media, Leadville Investments, that proposes a complete change of the board of directors of Ekho Moskvy. The new board would be composed entirely of representatives of Gazprom-Media and NTV, including NTV General Director Boris Jordan. According to Venediktov, Gazprom-Media promised during the summer of last year, when Alfred Kokh was head of that company, that it would reserve three seats on the board of directors for Gazprom, three for Vladimir Gusinsky's representatives, and three for journalists from Ekho Moskvy. Venediktov concluded that apparently this deal has been reneged on and predicted an insider deal is in the works, whereby Boris Jordan, who works as a general director of Gazprom-Media and also for the private firm Sputnik, will be involved both as the seller and the purchaser of the station. According to "Kommersant," Venediktov said that he "is offended by the decision of the current leadership of Gazprom-Media, although formally they are acting within the letter of the law."
Gazprom-Media official Oleg Sapozhnikov told RFE/RL that by sending in its nominations, Leadville is simply following standard procedure, under which shareholders nominate their candidates for the board of directors. These nominations were due by 31 January by law, and a final agreement about who is on the board of directors won't be reached until the annual shareholders meeting, which should take place no later than 1 July. Gazprom-Media press secretary Aelita Yefimova told Interfax that other shareholders "have the right to name their representatives to the board of directors, and Gazprom-Media hopes that they made use of this right." Yefimova also made it clear that Venediktov, as shareholder of 18 percent of the company, would have a right to vote on this or that candidate at the shareholders meeting, but it was not clear how much weight Venediktov's vote would have relative to Gazprom-Media, which holds a 52 percent stake in the company. In addition, neither she nor other Gazprom-Media officials commented on the status of the earlier agreement on the board's composition concluded by Alfred Kokh.
Even if Venediktov can produce written evidence of Kokh's promise there's the question of whether Kokh actually had the power under Gazprom-Media's charter to make such a pledge. Peter Maggs, an expert on Russian civil law at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told RFE/RL that some Russian lawyers doubt the enforceability of a contract to vote shares, and for this reason, most serious share-vote control transactions use the form of trust administration -- something which Kokh did not bother to set up before he left Ekho Moskvy. Maggs also noted that if Ekho Moskvy has less than 1,000 shareholders and its charter does not require cumulative voting, then Gazprom-Media can elect the whole board. But even if cumulative voting is required, Gazprom-Media with a 52 percent stake is sure to get majority control the board of directors, according to Maggs.
Venediktov was not the only person to accuse Gazprom on 8 February of not keeping its promises. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Union of Rightist Forces head Boris Nemtsov said that last summer Gazprom "swore an oath that it would transfer 9 percent of the shares to a trust that would be administered by [former Economics Minister] Yevgenii Yasin." He continued that "this promise was repeated many times even after Alfred Kokh had left Gazprom-Media. Besides that, the leadership of Gazprom, in particular, [head Aleksei] Miller constantly emphasized that this trifling problem would [be dealt with] at the next session of Gazprom's board of directors." However, "soon it will be a year," Nemtsov noted, and this problem has not been resolved.
In the meantime, Venediktov told RFE/RL that if the new proposed board of directors is elected then he will leave Ekho Moskvy. For a journalist, he said, the chief thing is your reputation and that he does not consider it good for his reputation to "work with such people."