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Associated Press

All-sports replaces TV6 broadcasting

January 22, 2002

MOSCOW - Russia's TV6 broadcasting was replaced by all-sports news programming Tuesday, hours after authorities took TV6, the last independent, national station, off the air.

TV6 lost its broadcast signal at midnight (2100 Monday GMT) in the culmination of a months-long legal battle that has revived concern about media freedom in Russia.

On Jan. 11, the station was ordered closed after a minority shareholder, a pension fund owned by oil giant Lukoil, brought it to court to initiate liquidation procedures for failing to bring a profit. TV6 management maintained that the station was on firm financial footing and that the Lukoil suit was ordered by the government to silence the station's critical news reports. Lukoil is minority-owned by the Russian government.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the liquidation proceedings were purely a business dispute.

On Tuesday morning, NTV-Plus, a Russian satellite TV service, began broadcasting its sports channel for free on Channel 6. The company was granted temporary rights to the frequency until a permanent broadcast license is granted, something officials have said would happen in late March.

Last week, TV6 managers voluntarily surrendered the station's broadcast license and announced the creation of a new corporation - also named TV6 - which would bid for broadcast rights.

They also severed ties with Boris Berezovsky, the self-exiled tycoon and Kremlin opponent who owns the majority of shares in TV6.

But on Monday, TV6's general manager Yevgeny Kiselyov announced that the managers had changed their mind, saying that only the station's shareholders had the right to surrender the license. He said TV6 management had surrendered the license under pressure from Media Minister Mikhail Lesin and the Kremlin, and that it had been told that they could stay on the air if TV6 dropped Berezovsky.

Shortly after Kiselyov's announcement, bailiffs arrived at the Media Ministry demanding that TV6's old parent company be stripped of its license in line with the court order and be forbidden from conducting any financial operations.

Leading Russian liberals condemned the TV6 closure as a violation of the public's right to information.

"This is horrible news for all of us," Vladimir Ryzhkov, an independent member of parliament, said on Echo of Moscow. "In Russia, there is no independent, national television station."

Kiselyov and most of the TV6 journalists joined the station last spring. They previously worked at NTV, but left after that station was taken over by state-connected natural gas giant Gazprom, and Berezovsky offered them the chance to broadcast on TV6.


See also:
TV6 case

Associated Press, January 22, 2002

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