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Associated Press

Russian Authorities Mull TV6 License

January 14, 2002

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia's top broadcasting official said Monday that his office is working on bidding procedures for the broadcast license held by TV6, the independent TV station that lost a legal battle to prevent its closure.

Press Minister Mikhail Lesin hinted the government might support a proposal to hand the station's broadcasting rights to its leading journalists, an outcome that could ease accusations of a Kremlin crackdown on media freedom by letting critical journalists stay on the air.

``I doubt that there is anyone who is better prepared and more professional now,'' Lesin said in an interview on Echo of Moscow radio. He said an auction for TV6's permanent broadcast license would begin in April after it closes.

The proposal to give the broadcasting rights to the journalists was made late Monday by the Moscow Independent Broadcasting Corp., which owns the TV6 channel.

The decision by a Moscow arbitration court on Friday to liquidate TV6 sparked international concern about Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites)'s commitment to the freedom of speech. The U.S. administration said it was ``disappointed'' by the court's ruling and warned of a ``strong appearance of political pressure on the courts during these proceedings.''

Russia's Foreign Ministry angrily fired back on Monday, accusing the United States of ``double standards.'' The U.S. statement was ``a call to put pressure on the courts, which is inadmissible,'' the ministry said, adding that the fate of TV6 was a purely legal issue.

TV6, the largest remaining independent TV station in Russian, was ordered dissolved as the result of a suit brought by minority shareholder Lukoil-Garant, a pension fund owned by Russian oil giant Lukoil.

Lukoil-Garant, which holds a 15 percent stake in TV6 and is itself minority-owned by the Russian state, demanded that the station be liquidated because it failed to bring a profit.

The TV6 staff includes prominent journalists who left NTV television when it was taken over by natural-gas giant Gazprom last year after a bruising legal fight. The journalists charge the takeover was orchestrated by the Kremlin to punish them for critical coverage.

The largest owner of TV6 is tycoon Boris Berezovsky, a virulent Kremlin critic who lives in self-imposed exile in London and has said contends that the decision to close TV6 was politically motivated.

Lesin said Putin had been monitoring the TV6 case but that he had never interfered in the legal proceedings.

A TV6 shareholder meeting scheduled Monday to discuss the liquidation process was postponed indefinitely after it failed to reach a quorum.

Also Monday, the youth wing of the liberal Yabloko party demonstrated outside Lukoil's Moscow headquarters to protest the TV6 decision.

See also:
TV6 case

Associated Press, January 14, 2002

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