The fight is on for control of one of Russia’s national channels – St. Petersburg’s Channel 5 – and it pits pro-Yeltsin Democrats against hard-line reactionaries. The latter are the majority in parliament but so far have had little direct control of the media.
The most high-profile antagonists in this battle are Channel 5’s general manager, Bella Kurkova, one of Russia’s leading pro-Yeltsin Democrats, and Alexander Nevzorov, former anchor of the channel’s controversial news program “600 Seconds.”
Nevzorov was elected on a hard-line ticket to the Russian parliament in 1993. With national elections due in 1996, the battle to control Channel 5 has brought these two into sharp conflict.
The latest round of sparring started when Nevzorov contested a dismissal notice handed to him, and to a large proportion of the channel’s other employees. The pinkslips were the first major round of firings to hit Russia’s TV world. A St. Petersburg court upheld Nevzorov’s appeal, agreeing with him that the legal technicalities of the dismissal action had not been met.
Moreover, Nevzorov announced the results of an investigation into the channel’s finances by a branch of Russia’s Ministry of Finance, finding evidence of embezzlement of several million dollars in free advertising time sold to preferred clients.
To forestall any charges of partisanship, Nevzorov announced that he had been mandated by the security committee of the Russian parliament to oversee all investigations into the activities of Channel 5’s administration.
The result of the revelations: a parliamentary 94% no-confidence vote in Kurkova and her administration.
However, Kurkova may yet resurface in another TV venture. A new broadcaster with British backers, legally established as a Russian joint-stock company named Telekanal 27, may soon launch as an entertainment channel. It would appear that Channel 5 is indirectly one of the founders of Telekanal 27, having transferred 15 million rubles to its statutory fund.
In other words, Kurkova could be behind a move to transfer assets and equipment currently belonging to Channel 5 to a future private channel, which would include Kurkova and others of her staff among its stock holders.