A presidential decree of 30 November 1994 transformed Ostankino into a closed joint-stock company, Russian Public TV (Obshchestvennoe Rossiyskoye Televidenie or ORT). The shares were distributed between state agencies (51%) and private shareholders, including numerous banks (49%). The partial privatization was inspired by the intolerable financial situation of Ostankino, owing to huge transmission costs and a bloated payroll (total staff of about 10,000 in early 1995).
From 1994 until 1 September 2002 the channel was called ORT (ОРТ—Общественное Российское Телевидение, Public Russian Television). It maintained the traditional programs and shows of the First Channel of the Soviet Television (RTO), such as Vremya, KVN, Chto? Gde? Kogda?, V mire zhivotnykh and Klub puteshestvennikov; the last two are no longer on the air of this channel.
In August 2000, however, his program criticized how the Putin government handled the explosion of the Russian submarine Kursk. When Dorenko’s show was in turn suspended on September 9, 2000, ORT director-general Konstantin Ernst insisted that — contrary to Dorenko's allegations — the government had not been involved in the change. Ernst state that he yanked the show because Dorenko had defied his orders to stop discussing the government's plan to nationalize Boris Berezovsky's 49-percent stake in the network.
Berezovsky claims that in 2001 he was forced by the Putin administration to sell his shares. He first tried to sell them to a third party, but failed. A close friend of Berezovsky, Nikolai Glushkov, was arrested while seriously ill, and Berezovsky gave up the shares (and, according to some sources, transferred them to Roman Abramovich's Sibneft) with the understanding that Glushkov would then be released. This promise was not fulfilled. Soon after Berezovsky's withdrawal, the new ownership changed the channel's name to Pervy Kanal (Channel One). Konstantin Ernst remains as general director. As of 2008, Channel One's minority shares are held by three little-known companies, ORT-KB, Eberlink-2002, and Rastrkom. Some speculate that these companies are owned by Roman Abramovich, although this claim lacks definitive proof.
Russian television media in the Putin era have been criticized for the pro-government bias. The critics charge that Channel One's news and information programs are frequently used for propaganda purposes. These critics contend that Channel One airs a disproportionate amount of stories focusing on positive aspects of official government policy, while largely neglecting certain controversial topics such as war in Chechnya or social problems. In addition, some have argued that the station's news reports often blur the line between factual reporting and editorial commentary, especially when broadcasting stories concerning Russian government policies or goals. For example, during the 2004 Ukrainian Presidential elections, many political observers believe the Russian government actively supported the candidacy of then Ukrainian Prime-minister Viktor Yanukovich over that of Viktor Yushchenko. In an October 13, 2004 news story, Channel One reporter Natalya Kondratyuk declared that "the Premier [Yanukovich], as a candidate, is adding to his ratings by working on the economy and by solving current social problems; he does not use slogans; he is not criticizing his opponent; and he is not creating scandals. Yushchenko’s style of campaigning is diametrically opposite."
In another controversial example, on a 23 January 2005 broadcast, in the midst of widespread protests against a new reform of Russia's social benefits system (L'goty), a Channel One anchor opined, "you can understand, and should understand, those who went out on the streets, but you also have to understand that the old system has completely outlived its use." Later, in the same story, a reporter characterized those protesting against the reforms as political opportunists, adding, "criticizing the reform is good PR." A few days later, on 27 January 2005, as the protests continued across Russia, a Channel One reporter noted, "You can understand the elderly [protestors, but] repealing free [bus] fares was the last hope for public transport."
Similarly, on a 12 February 2005 broadcast, a Channel One anchor declared, "The key question of the week has been: how are Presidents [[Mikheil Saakashvili|[Mikheil] Saakashvili]] [of Georgia]) and Yushchenko [of Ukraine] different? At first, it seemed the difference was only in their appearance, in all other ways, they were like characters from the film Attack of the Clones for us." Critics of Channel One news argue that hundreds of similar examples exist where station news reporters and anchors insert editorial commentary into news reports, almost always to commend perceived allies of Russia or criticize perceived enemies.
As of 2006, Vladimir Posner, Ekaterina Andreeva, Petr Tolstoy and Mikhail Leontiev are among the most prominent political journalists of the channel. On Sunday, 28 January 2006, the Channel One news and analytical program Sunday Time (Voskresnoye Vremya) hosted by Petr Tolstoy distorted the content of a speech by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko related to the Russia-Belarus energy dispute to the contrary by editing it and deleting some crucial words.