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It's All About Freedom of Speech for Shuster

Published: December 10, 2002 (Issue # 827)



  • Shuster says that he never compromised his principles in the NTV takeover dispute.
    Photo: Vladimir Filonov / The St. Petersburg Times

MOSCOW - As if to confirm the fabled addiction of television people to scanning their ratings numbers, the first thing Savik Shuster did when he came to his office for an interview last week was to switch on his computer and look at that day's graphs of how many people watched NTV's news programs, which he helps run as deputy chief of news.

"I don't know why, but the best day for news is Thursday," said Shuster, who turned 50 three weeks ago and was congratulated by guests in the middle of his live political talk show "Svoboda Slova," or "Free Speech."

Yet Shuster is not your average Russian television star. And not only because, at the age of 50, he sticks to using the diminutive version of his name, Savely, or because of the controversies that seen to have followed him throughout his career.

Most recently, it was President Vladimir Putin's apparent fury at NTV's coverage of the Moscow hostage crisis, particularly at Shuster's Oct. 25 show featuring passionate pleas by hostages' relatives to end the war in Chechnya and not storm the theater. Afterward, several newspapers reported that the NTV leadership was under pressure to fire Shuster.

"Thank God someone can make money, but not at any cost, not on the blood of your own citizens, if, of course, those who do this consider these citizens to be their own," Putin said at a meeting with media managers late last month, in remarks that were widely perceived as directed at NTV and its head, Boris Jordan, a U.S.-born descendant of White Russian emigres.

Speculation was rife in Moscow media circles that Putin was directly referring to Shuster, a Lithuanian-born Canadian citizen.

"If he indeed meant NTV, this has nothing to with Jordan, because it is hard to imagine blood more Russian than Jordan's," Shuster said. "Therefore, he meant me or people like me. As for me, there is no such thing as foreign blood."

"And the very way in which the question is raised is wrong. If we say that terrorism has no borders, it means that blood has no borders."

Shuster is married to an Italian, and his family presently lives in Florence. His parents emigrated from their native Vilnius via Israel in 1971, when Shuster was 19. A distant uncle, who was vice president of the oil company Shell Canada, intervened with Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin on their behalf. Shuster earned a medical degree in Canada and then moved to Florence to continue his studies. There, he began writing for a local newspaper after realizing that he "did not like sick people."

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Centers Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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