Interview: Grigory Yavlinsky, Yabloko Party leader

JANA WENDT: Grigory Yavlinsky, why do you believe that the takeover of NTV is an attack on free speech?

GRIGORY YAVLINSKY, YABLOKO PARTY LEADER: Because the NTV is the only one television channel, first which is private and secondly, which explain the country what happens in the Northern Caucasus during the war, the channel which explains to the people what happened with the submarine `Kursk`, the channel which explained the people corruption, and also the explosions in Moscow in `99.


That was the only channel who was speaking openly and honestly to the people – that`s why I think the attack on NTV is purely political attack.

JANA WENDT: How damaging do you believe NTV`s coverage of those issues that you`ve spoken of was for President Putin?

GRIGORY YAVLINSKY: I don`t think that it was really damaging for our President, but if they would be consistent and they would take this line for a long time, they can certainly create him a lot of problems before the elections.

JANA WENDT: Do you believe that this new management that has taken over will simply do the government`s bidding?

GRIGORY YAVLINSKY: I have no doubt in that. This is in fact, it`s a nationalisation of the company through GAZPROM and some politicians from the right force wing in Russia. I have no doubts that this is the main goal of this whole operation, is to put the NTV down and to make them so-called independent channel in terms of creating a new line in Russian media which formally would be independent and private, but in fact certainly would be part of the state propaganda.

JANA WENDT: How closely involved do you believe Mr Putin himself is in what`s going on with NTV?

GRIGORY YAVLINSKY: I have no doubts, and nobody have any doubts that Mr Putin have his own line in this, and everything what`s happening with the NTV channel, he`s well aware on everything what`s going on, and this is his own goal and his own line.

JANA WENDT: A judge ruled that the emergency meeting that brought about this takeover was illegal. A few minutes, later that same judge reversed his own decision. What does that say to you about what`s going on here?

GRIGORY YAVLINSKY: Millions and millions of people in Russia are in the same position. We have no independent justice at all. We have a justice which is very typical for the Soviet system, which is under the telephone command from the authorities – in this case, under telephone command coming from Kremlin.

JANA WENDT: Mr Putin has reassured Chancellor Schroeder, who`s been visiting your country, that this case will ultimately go to the Supreme Court, and that`s something that I understand NTV`s employees want to happen as well. Can you be sure that any judgment it brings down will be independent?

GRIGORY YAVLINSKY: It`s very hard to say that it will be completely independent, but what is needed really is the open procedure in the Supreme Court. If the procedure would be open enough and public enough, and the correspondents from all over the world would be in the room, that would give us some arguments to say that it was a fair case.

JANA WENDT: Do you think that Mr Putin is responsive to international scrutiny – for instance, Chancellor Schroeder`s visit – and international media scrutiny of what is going on at the moment?

GRIGORY YAVLINSKY: To some extent, to some extent. But I want to say that there is now clear general point in the international media in that case. This is converted to the contradiction between private property rights and freedom of speech, which is in fact not a matter, which is in fact not a problem here with this case, because the main issue is to what extent was shareholders meeting was legal? This is the key question. Instead of that, a lot of the media in the world are discussing a different issue – who is in the right side or the safe side – the private property-owners or the journalists who are defending the freedom of speech? But this is a false dilemma in that case.

JANA WENDT: Let me just ask you – there are many reports that the US media baron Ted Turner is interested in taking out a stake in NTV. How do you feel about that prospect?

GRIGORY YAVLINSKY: I think that will be OK. It will be much better from my point of view and the point of view of my party – would be much better than if the state, Russian state, through GAZPROM, by the hands of GAZPROM, would be the main owner and main boss of this channel.