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Russian Radio Station Loses Independence

Ekho Moskvy, or Echo of Moscow, which was controlled by embattled media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky, is now under the authority of the government-controlled gas company.

Five deputy editors at the station quit in protest rather than participate in what they called the “forced nationalization” of their broadcasts.

“As of today, we are a state-run company,” former Deputy Chief Editor Irina Tsvei told the Associated Press.

Echo of Moscow’s remaining leaders say they are holding out to see if Gazprom goes through with the deal, but said they will quit if the station goes under full state control.

“For the moment, I have but one aim — to wrestle the radio from the state,” chief editor Alexei Venediktov told Interfax.

A series of losses

The decision is just one in a string of devastating losses for the station’s parent company Media-Most.

Gas company Gazprom seized control of Media-Most’s top holding, nationwide television station NTV, in April, alleging that Gusinsky misrepresented his company’s assets when he accepted loans of more than $300 million from Gazprom in 1998.

A month later, a Russian court ordered the liquidation of Media-Most to pay off Gusinsky’s debts.

Gazprom officials say the takeovers are strictly business matters, but many in former Media-Most holdings say the attacks on Gusinsky are retribution for his stations’ criticism of the Putin Administration and part of a government takeover of the independent press.

Yesterday, the court confirmed an earlier ruling that said the gas giant could acquire 25 percent plus one share of all companies once owned by Media-Most, including Echo of Moscow. Since Gazprom already owned an additional 25 percent, the decision now gives them a controlling interest in the radio station.

The ruling was a surprise to Echo of Moscow journalists, who just Wednesday struck a deal with Gazprom to garner some of the gas company’s shares — adding up to 9.5 percent of the company’s stock. With the 28 percent station employees already own and 14 percent promised to them by Gusinsky, the journalists had hoped to maintain the station’s independence.

But prosecutors on Monday froze Gusinsky’s stock in the station, saying the shares could be held as collateral for possible damages in the state’s ongoing fraud case against Gusinsky.

And members of Echo of Moscow’s now-resigned senior staff say the deal with Gazprom isn’t likely to come through.

“I don’t trust Gazprom, and I believe their aim is to close the station as it is now,” resigned deputy editor Vladimir Varfolomeyev told the English-language Moscow Times.

A Gazprom spokesman told the Times the company’s promise is still on the table “for the moment”, but said “it’s entirely up to the journalists to believe it or not. It’s their internal matter.”

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