Censorship and Sacking of TV Journalist “Smacks of Commissar Politics” Says IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists today accused Russian television bosses of submitting to “commissar politics” after the sacking of Leonid Parfyonov, the director and anchorman of the political programme Namedni on NTV on Tuesday.

The dismissal took place after Parfyonov aired an interview with the widow of a former Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, violating orders from the channel’s management. Russian Special Forces had reportedly ordered NTV’s deputy director Alexander Gerasimov not to air the interview, according to Russian media reports.

In an official statement NTV said the programme had been taken off air because of a contract violation by Parfyonov, but many journalists see the action as a clear-cut case of censorship.

“Although there are clear contractual issues here, the handling of this affair smacks of old-style commissar politics in which journalism is subject to unacceptable controls,” said Aidan White IFJ General Secretary. He said the IFJ affiliate the Russian Union of Journalists was investigating the circumstances of Parfyonov’s sacking.

“There is a genuine fear that this case is being used as a warning to independent journalists to mind their step,” said White. “It is another blow to hopes for more freedom for journalists in Russia.”

Parfyonov’ programme included a five-minute report on the trial of two Russian special agents in Qatar on charges of killing former Chechen head Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, and included a short, exclusive interview with his wife, Malika. Although it was shown in the region east of the Ural Mountains, the report was not broadcast in European Russia.

In a statement to the Kommersant daily, Parfyonov said that the station’s general director Alexander Gerasimov was told by Russian special agents to take the report off the air.

Until 2000 NTV was one of Russia’s last privately-owned television networks when it was taken over by the state-owned company Gazprom. The network’s journalists protested but many of them, like Parfyonov, stayed with the network. A year later the Media-Most company of billionaire Vladimir Gusinsky battled with Gazprom for control of NTV. Parfyonov briefly quit in protest but returned when Gazprom finally gained control over NTV and again became a member of the governing board.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries