STATE CONTROL URGED FOR RUSSIAN TV NETWORK

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MOSCOW-Parliament last week called for Russia to reverse the privatization of its leading TV network after the March 1 murder of network Executive Director Vladislav Listyev.

The move, requiring two votes at an unspecified date by the Duma and approval by President Boris Yeltsin to take effect, shows that Russia is looking closely at moving Russian Public Television back into the hands of the state.

The March 10 call came the same day ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky urged the government to seize control of every Russian TV network-a measure only narrowly defeated in the Duma.

The flurry of activity underscores the current feeding frenzy among those in power seeking to get a grip on the Russian TV industry-and its lucrative ad revenue. That revenue is seen as a motive in the Listyev slaying, leaving admen here last week struggling to distance the industry from the incident.

Russian admen rushed to assert their innocence, salvage their public image and maintain the status quo in the face of a feared Kremlin bid to seize full control over media wholesaling.

The March 1 murder of Mr. Listyev is believed to be linked with recent bids by the executive to cast aside media wholesalers suspected of skimming millions of dollars by withholding money from airtime sales. Industry insiders say leaders of Russian Public Television were still planning next month's halt on all advertising-that move was widely seen as a cover for the bid by Mr. Listyev to oust unwanted middlemen.

But some fear the Kremlin will use the murder as an excuse to regain Soviet-style thrall over the network in hopes of controlling the airwaves as the June 1996 presidential elections approach.

"The state acts impulsively; it is quite difficult to predict what it will do," said Dimitry Abroschenko, general director of Video International Advertising, whose parent company, Video International Holding, is exclusive media wholesaler for three Russian TV networks. "Very few people know who is making policy in this country."

"At one point, [the government] viewed the media as something that should be reformed and self-supporting," Roman Frolov, first VP of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Russia, said of President Yeltsin's decision to partially privatize the state network formerly known as Ostankino. Until glasnost, the network drew the party line for viewers in the Soviet Union.

But, Mr. Frolov added, "At another time, [the government] may see the media as an instrument of pressure during an election campaign."

President Yeltsin raised eyebrows the day after the death of the 38-year-old Mr. Listyev, when he told Russian Public Television employees he would soon decree "some changes" at the network, still majority-owned by the state.

Mr. Frolov said he hoped the attention attracted to the media wholesaling system for Russia's six major networks would inspire the state to break up the system-not just on Russian Public Television but also on the three channels controlled by Video International.

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