Dorenko Program Has Plug Pulled
Published: September 12, 2000 (Issue # 602)
MOSCOW - ORT yanked Sergei Dorenko, its outspoken anchor and a close Boris Berezovsky ally, off the air over the weekend in a sign that the Kremlin was closing its grip over the channel.
Berezovsky had last week declared that he was handing over his 49-percent ORT stake in trust to a group of 14 journalists and intellectuals - Dorenko included - over what he claimed was a Kremlin threat to clamp down on press freedom.
The government owns the controlling 51-percent stake in the station.
ORT general director Konstantin Ernst told Dorenko, who is also deputy director of the station, just hours before broadcast Saturday that the analytical program was being pulled from the evening lineup.
Ernst said in a statement that Dorenko had refused to keep quiet about Berezovsky's decision to hand over his stake, and the "emotional tension surrounding the situation threatens ORT's normal work."
But Dorenko, who had just the weekend before fiercely lashed out at President Vladimir Putin over his handling of the Kursk submarine disaster, said Monday that it was Putin who had ordered Ernst to take his program off the air.
"If you know the logic of bureaucrats, they always wait until he [Putin] waves his hand," Dorenko said at a news conference.
Dorenko said he lost his show because he had steadfastly refused to ally himself with Putin, which would have meant the anchorman could no longer air criticisms of the president and his allies.
The journalist said he met with Putin at least four times since September 1999. At their most recent meeting on Aug. 29, Putin said he had broken all ties with Berezovsky and asked the ORT anchor for his support, Dorenko said.
Berezovsky is widely believed to have played a large role in plucking Putin from relative obscurity last year and propelling him to the Kremlin. Dorenko himself helped boost Putin's rising star last year by broadcasting a series of scathing reports about one-time presidential contenders such as former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.
Dorenko, who turned the president down, said his determination to continue airing critical reports about the Kremlin and not his "friendly relations" with Berezovsky led to his show being canceled.
Dorenko bitterly called the loss of his show a blow against freedom of speech, but defiantly pledged to continue producing the program. He has retained his seat as deputy director at ORT.
"We will continue to do everything as if we were allowed to go back on the air," he said.
Talks are under way with executives at TV-6, a second-tier channel owned by Berezovsky, according to Russian press reports.
Although banned from the air, Dorenko released last Saturday's program on his Web site (www.dorenko.ru) to an audience no doubt considerably smaller than the 40 million viewers that he claims regularly tune into his television show.
On the show, Dorenko was planning a somewhat low-key commentary on Berezovsky's decision to give up his stake, and a rehash of allegations published in the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung last week that the Kursk was sunk by a missile shot from a Russian warship.
Dorenko got some support Sunday from a one-time foe, NTV television anchor and general director Yevgeny Kiselyov.
"Taking him off the air is undoubtedly an act of censorship, of government interference [into editorial affairs], against which we will always speak up," Kiselyov said.
However, many observers had seen Dorenko as a mouthpiece for Berezovsky, and they welcomed his ouster.
"It is better sooner than never," said Alexei Pankin, editor of the Sreda media magazine. "It's too bad that it takes pressure from the Kremlin to get the right decision from [ORT] management."
Dorenko has followed a bumpy career path at ORT. His ins and outs from the station have served in past years as an indicator of Berezovsky's relationship with the government.
Berezovsky said last week that a threat from presidential chief of staff Alexander Voloshin had led him to decide to transfer his shares. He said Vo lo shin demanded that he give up his shares to the state or "follow in the steps of [Media-MOST founder Vla di mir] Gusinsky." Gusinsky was briefly arrested in July in what was seen as a flap over his NTV television's criticism of the Kremlin.
The transfer of his 49-percent stake would help protect ORT's freedom, Berezovsky said.
The Dorenko fray comes as ORT undergoes a month-long reshuffling. Ernst sacked two executives close to Be rezovsky - Tatyana Koshkaryova and Rustam Narzikulov - last month. And last week, the former deputy director of the state-owned VGTRK television and radio giant, Sergei Goryachev, was appointed head of the politically sensitive news department.
Dorenko acknowledged Monday that he has a fight ahead of him if he wants to get his voice on the air again. And if that bid fails, he might just go into politics, Dorenko said without elaborating.
But the bespectacled anchorman reckons his chances are good for resurfacing on television since he has already lost his program three times - most recently in December 1998 after a war of words with the Kremlin - and bounced back.
"I will come back now or 20 years or 2,000 years from now," Dorenko vowed.