Russian Public TV Network OTR Cuts Half of its Personnel

The pet project of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has been in financial trouble since it went on the air last year.

MOSCOW -- The Russian network OTR, a pet project of prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, is cutting half of its personnel as the station, which has barely been on the air for a year, is facing deep financial trouble.

"We have many plans, but there is one obstacle for all of them: due to our financial situation we will have to reduce the company by half within two months," Anatoly Lysenko, general director, was quoted as saying by the Russian wire service Interfax.

He added that layoffs are going to mostly affect the journalistic staff while most of the technical personnel will have to stay to maintain the company's operations.

The idea of launching OTR, a new independent public network, was first floated by Medvedev in late 2011, when he was Russia's president. Many expected the station, which went on the air last May, to become an alternative to the heavily censored state-run media. The government was supposed to provide $46.3 million (1.5 billion rubles) for the channel's launch and initial operation, while private donations were expected to become the main source of funding for OTR.

However, private-sector money never arrived, and the government agreed to provide 1.5 billion rubles on an annual basis, an amount that the station's management believes to be too low.

"Building a national network with the money we received is ridiculous," Lysenko was quoted as saying. He added that that amount corresponds to only two thirds of the funding the station needs.

Ironically, OTR's financial troubles are happening at a time when major state-run channels are reporting significant revenues. Substantial government funds have been earmarked for state-run media this year, including the wire service RIA Novosti, which is being restructured and merged with the English-language channel Russia Today.