February 14, 1996

Government Bars TV Network From Kremlin


MOSCOW -- In an election-year skirmish between President Boris Yeltsin and the press, the government has barred Russia's most prominent independent television network from the Kremlin, the network's editors said on Tuesday.

Journalists from NTV, Russia's only nationwide independent television station, said that the ban on its film crews was prompted by an unflattering broadcast about Yeltsin and was meant as a warning to them to tone down their criticism.

Yeltsin's press spokesman, Sergei Medvedev, denied on Tuesday that he had ordered the Kremlin off limits to the network and charged that the station was seeking publicity to boost its ratings.

Soon after Medvedev spoke, the network told its viewers that the government was making it difficult for the station to cover Yeltsin's upcoming trip to Yekaterinburg, where the president is to make a much-anticipated address on his plans to run for re-election.

"We regard it as a warning sign," Yevgeny Kiselyov, the host of the network's news program "Itogi" -- roughly translated as "Results" -- and one of Russia's most prominent journalists, said in an interview.

With a presidential election coming up in June and Yeltsin's poll ratings dismally low, television has become increasingly vital for influencing public opinion. And the NTV network, one of a handful of independent networks, has long been viewed by the Yeltsin government as uncooperative.

The skirmish began with a two-part interview with Vyacheslav Kostikov, Yeltsin's former press spokesman and Russia's current ambassador to the Vatican. The interview was broadcast on "Itogi," which airs on Sunday evening and is widely seen in Russia.

Kostikov intended the interview to publicize his forthcoming memoir, "Parting with the President," which covers his three years in the Kremlin, a time when he was a stalwart defender of Yeltsin.

"Power is his concubine," Kostikov said in the interview, referring to Yeltsin. "He does not have his own democractic convictions and never did."

Kostikov also derisively described Gen. Aleksandr Korzhakov, a confident of Yeltsin and chief of the president's security, as a sycophantic servant determined to convert "the president into a monarch."

Soon after the first of the broadcasts, Kostikov was summoned to Moscow for a meeting with Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Kostikov submitted a letter of resignation from his ambassadorial post, which has yet to be accepted.

But just as the flap over Kostikov began to die down, the spotlight began to shift to the NTV network.

NTV officials said an assistant in Yeltsin's press office called the network on Monday to advise that NTV's camera crews were not welcome at two Kremlin ceremonies featuring Yeltsin.

After repeated calls to Yeltsin's press spokesman from network executives were not returned, NTV highlighted the ban in its Monday evening news broadcast.

Medvedev took to the airways on Tuesday night as NTV and the government mounted dueling broadcasts.

Appearing on the state-owned station, Russian Television, Medvedev said that NTV crews had not been allowed to film the Kremlim ceremonies because it was not their turn to do so and charged that the station was exploiting the situation.

He suggested that the network's reporters would be welcome at his news briefing on Wednesday, but added that he was was reserving the right "to pursue a tough line" if the network persisted in criticizing the president and his press office.

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