Silencing Russia's critics

NTV takeover: President Putin's moves to quash network as a voice of dissent weaken the nation.

April 11, 2001

AFTER WAGING an all-out war against President Vladimir Putin's most vocal critic, Russian government is about to complete the takeover of NTV. As a result, the Kremlin will effectively control all television news programming.

NTV has been a thorn in the side of Mr. Putin since he came to power 15 months ago. Alone among television stations, it has exposed official corruption and questioned the cruelty of the stalemated Chechnya war.

When Boris Yeltsin occupied the Kremlin, NTV was equally irreverent toward and critical of his administration. But even when he gritted his teeth, Mr. Yeltsin seemed to find benefits in hearing dissent from the official line.

By contrast, Mr. Putin, a former KGB spy, views critics as renegades. He believes his presidency is the target of an "information war" conducted by Russia's enemies abroad with the help of domestic media accomplices.

It is intriguing that the Kremlin used Ted Turner as an accessory during the takeover maneuvers. Once a darling of Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the CNN founder itches to own a piece of Russian television.

Mr. Turner is still talking about a stake in NTV, but Russian politicians are making more and more noise about the dangers of dealing with the American, particularly because U.S. Army psychological operations interns worked at CNN two years ago.

The ultimate victim in the gagging of NTV, however, will be President Putin himself.

As the network's courageous exposes end, Russia will have one fewer critical voice to call attention to bad policies and official wrongdoing.

Corruption and all kinds of irregularities increase whenever a government clamps down on media freedoms and gutsy reporting. The result is defective government.

All this augurs ill for Russia. The country needs vigilant watchdogs if it hopes to develop into a society of laws and order. Sadly, Mr. Putin is more interested in surrounding himself with sycophants who will only tell him the good news, regardless of how false it may be.

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