Kremlin accused of bid to crush media

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Chief Editors of Russia's biggest private media group demanded an urgent meeting with President Vladimir Putin yesterday to discuss what they say is a state-backed effort to crush their independence.

Chief Editors of Russia's biggest private media group demanded an urgent meeting with President Vladimir Putin yesterday to discuss what they say is a state-backed effort to crush their independence.

At issue is ownership of Media-Most, a conglomerate that includes several daily newspapers, a radio station and the only non-state television network, NTV.

Editors, joined by political backers - including the former president Mikhail Gorbachev - told a press conference the state-owned natural gas giant Gazprom was employing "crude blackmail" and police intimidation to force Media-Most's owner, Vladimir Gusinsky, to relinquish control of his empire.

Mr Gorbachev, who heads a committee established by Mr Gusinsky to defend press freedoms, said: "What is at stake here is not only the fate of NTV and Media-Most, but also a threat to freedom of speech in Russia." Mr Gusinsky, whose media have been critical of the Kremlin, was arrested in June and threatened with prosecution over alleged malfeasance during privatisation of a small television company three years earlier. But he was suddenly released, and left for Spain, after all charges against him were dropped. This week he said he had obtained his freedom in exchange for a pledge to sell Media-Most to its largest creditor, Gazprom, but would not go through with the deal.

Gazprom, which is owed $437m (£312m) by Media-Most, has admitted the existence of the bargain. Yesterday, its spokesman accused Mr Gusinsky of stripping assets from the company and moving them offshore. The prosecutor general opened a criminal investigation into Media-Most and ordered Mr Gusinsky - who is still in Spain - to appear in Moscowfor questioning.

Comments