MOSCOW (AP) - After persuading a court to shut down Russia's
largest independent television network, a subsidiary of the country's
biggest oil company said Saturday it wants to buy the channel's
Russia's top arbitration court on Friday ordered the closure
of TV6, ending a closely watched eight-month legal battle and
dealing the latest blow to Russian media freedom. TV6's feisty
journalists are among the government's fiercest critics.
The ruling came in response to a bankruptcy lawsuit by Lukoil-Garant,
a pension fund that is owned by oil giant Lukoil and holds a 15
percent stake in TV6. Lukoil-Garant - itself minority-owned by
the government - demanded the station be shut because it failed
to make a profit. TV6 maintains that it is profitable despite
earlier financial woes.
After the victory in court, Lukoil-Garant said Saturday it wanted
to bid for the station's broadcasting license - and suggested
it would hire back some of TV6's journalists and give them partial
ownership. TV6 lawyers said its broadcast license should be annulled
after the liquidation, which must be carried out by May.
``The fund is ready to join efforts with the TV6 staff for participation
in this tender (for the license) and, in the case of victory,
hand over a considerable package of shares to the personnel for
joint work to create a new image for the channel,'' Lukoil-Garant
said in a statement.
If it wins the broadcast rights, Lukoil-Garant said it would
``take into account first of all the interests of TV viewers and
observe the principles of freedom of information.''
TV6 officials could not be reached Saturday for comment.
The TV6 staff includes some of Russia's most prominent journalists,
a group that had defected in disgust from NTV television when
it was taken over by natural-gas giant Gazprom last year after
a bruising legal fight.
The journalists charge the NTV and TV6 takeovers were orchestrated
by the Kremlin to punish them for critical coverage. The Kremlin
has denied involvement, but both battles prompted international
concern about Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites)'s
commitment to media freedom.
In Washington, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (news
- web sites) said Friday that the administration was ``disappointed''
by the decision to close TV-6.
Analysts warned the ruling would prompt self-censorship among
Russian journalists and harm local television stations that cooperated
NTV had been owned by tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, and TV6 is majority-owned
by magnate Boris Berezovsky. Both men were involved in shady privatization
deals in the 1990s and had good relations with the Kremlin under
Boris Yeltsin but have since lost favor. Both are abroad avoiding
criminal prosecution they say is politically motivated.
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