Shooting shows danger of Russian TV business Producer of talk program gunned down at home

January 27, 1996|By Clara Germani | Clara Germani,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- The producer of a popular political talk show was shot dead at his apartment door late Thursday, sending a chilling reminder of the deadly business television has become here.

This is a nation where prominent people from every business -- politicians, bankers and executives -- are shot, blown up, poisoned, suspiciously hit by cars and otherwise disposed of nearly every day. The Interior Ministry estimates that there were 562 contract killings in 1994 and that there will be more for 1995 when the final tallies are in.

A number of observers said they worry less that the slaying of Oleg Slabynko, 34 -- as well as that of famous news anchor Vladislav Listyev last March -- had anything to do with freedom of the press than it did with the shady financial dealings that have come to characterize television and advertising here.

Russia was jolted into national mourning with Mr. Listyev's murder. But outrage was diluted over the many months it took investigators to arrest a suspect, as information dribbled out about financial dealings that may have led to his murder.

Mr. Slabynko -- not well known outside the industry -- had been an executive at Ostankino, the biggest state television channel, until he was forced out when President Boris N. Yeltsin sold 49 percent of the network

He later was involved in producing a highly profitable game show, "Easier than Easy," a knock-off of "Hollywood Squares." Lately, he had been involved with "Moment of Truth," a spirited talk show, often seen as anti-government, in which journalists grill prominent politicians.

"Slabynko wouldn't be hit for what was on the air," said Andrei Orlov, Mr. Slabynko's former boss at Imart Video, which produces "Easier than Easy."

Television, a powerful political tool as well as a cash cow for professionals who know how to milk it, is only slowly being released from state control, and the grabs for power and financial benefits have swept through the industry.

"Criminalization of both television and advertising is a reality in this country," said Mr. Orlov. "Just stop by the main entrance of Ostankino and you'll see a lot of guys hanging around who you wouldn't want to sit next to at dinner. And they aren't extras in some crime movie, either."

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