M O S C O W, April 14, 2001 -- Members of the morning shift at Russia's NTV were turned away from the studios early this morning, signaling that the Russian government may be in control of the nation's only independent television network.
ABCNEWS sources report that the NTV takeover began around 3:00 a.m. Moscow time, when a new security service arrived at the network's offices and told the existing security service that they were relieved of their duties.
When reporters, correspondents, camera and stage crew members started to arrive at the network at approximately 4:00 a.m., most staffers had to wait a few minutes, but were reportedly let in. However, some of the early morning news show's anchors, and general director Yevgeny Kislyev's wife, Masha Shakhova, who heads up the station's public relations unit, were not.
Shakhova was asked if she would sign a letter of loyalty of the "new" leadership at the network. She refused, and was promptly told to leave.
No violence was reported.
Shortly after 4:30, the general director of Russian State Televison, Oleg Dobrodeyev, arrived at the network's headquarters. Dobrodeyev served for many years as NTV's general manager, and then left the network to go to the state sponsored news organization about two years ago. His role at NTV under its new management is still unclear.
Transfer of Power May Be Result of a Recent Dispute
The transfer of control would be a direct result of a dispute between Gazprom, the state-controlled energy monopoly, and Media-Most, a private media conglomerate.
Gazprom officials said on Jan. 25 that their firm had won control of the independent network because it owned 46 percent of the company, the largest single share. A court in Moscow effectively awarded majority ownership of the station to the energy monopoly.
An American Takes Over
On Friday, NTV's news director, American financier Boris Jordan, urged the station's journalists to stop blocking him from reaching his office.
"Yesterday, I received a stamp [official authorization] and I am entitled to lead the financial activities of the TV company," Jordan said at a news conference Friday. "All the banks have been informed and they know that all the payments that are going to be done without my signature will be illegal."
Jordan, who is of Russian descent, said he tried repeatedly to "arrange a dialogue" with Yevgeny Kiselyov, the station's former general director, but that Kiselyov refused to meet with him.
"He [Kiselyov] tries to provoke a situation at the channel whereby we would have to take it over by force. And I say again, this will not happen," Jordan said. The new NTV executive said he would not interfere in the network's editorial policy nor would he make major changes in programming.
Gazprom has claimed that if it was being forced to take over the station to protect its investment in the company, which Gazprom officials said is financially troubled.
ABCNEWS' Sergiusz Morenc in Moscow contributed to this report.