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Associated Press Writer

Lukoil Co. Wants to Buy TV Rights

By ANGELA CHARLTON, January 12, 2002

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 broadcasting rights.

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 with TV6.

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.

See also:
Media Law in Russia
TV6 Case
NTV Case

Associated Press, January 12, 2002

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