Russians were in shock last week after the assassination of Vladislav Listyev, the country’s most popular TV anchorman, but authorities were already linking the murder to Listyev’s efforts to end corruption in the selling of multimillion-dollar advertising time on Russian TV.
Listyev was by far the most high-profile person to be assassinated in Russia since Yeltsin became president in June 1991. He had carved himself a reputation in the perestroika years as an incisive investigative journalist.
As CEO of Russia’s first channel, he had final say in what was broadcast to an audience of more than 200 million around the former Soviet Union. And he was the key player in the launch next month of a new-look version of Russia’s main Ostankino channel.
He was gunned down late on March 1 on returning to his Moscow apartment.
His death underlined the extent to which crime has permeated every level of society in the wake of economic reforms.
President Boris Yeltsin, leading a national outpouring of grief over the slaying, fired Moscow’s police chief and prosecutor and pledged to revive the crusade against organized crime.
Listyev’s killing was the most stunning of a string of assassinations in Russia, where journalists, legislators and businessmen have become targets of hit men.
“The killing of Gladiola Listyev is a Mafia ritual to show that they can do anything in this country,” said Eduard Sagalayev, head of Russian commercial channel TV-6.
Politicians and Listyev’s colleagues linked his killing directly to the impending shakeup in state TV, specifically to new reforms in the ad side.
Listyev had been working to bring the lucrative selling of advertising airtime under the new channel’s direct control. This would have meant cutting out shadowy middlemen who have made fortunes out of illegally selling airtime to advertisers – and would have made Listyev many enemies.
Reuters contributed to this report.