Two who’s whos who know what’s what want to buy a television station. The Ministry of Press Affairs is selling one–or at least the license for the frequency–on March 27. The station is Moscow-based TV-6, the last national station not owned by the government.
Like so many media properties, TV-6 is a political hockey puck. The station belonged to ex-oligarch Boris Berezovsky, for whom its power to ruff or puff provided political leverage during the Yeltsin era. But under President Putin, the police and the courts brought larger television stations NTV and ORT under Kremlin control and moved earlier this year to strip Berezovsky, a fugitive, of his 85-percent ownership. Those shares are to be sold at auction. The two main rivals are a group of the country’s top industrialists and a group of the country’s top industrial lobbyists.
One bidding group is “Shestoi Telekanal,” or Sixth Channel, a consortium of twelve tycoons plus Yevgeny Kiselev, the barrel-chested journalist and television personality. Kiselev was news anchor and general director at NTV before the Kremlin transferred that property to its agent Gazprom last year. He then moved to TV-6 and led a journalists’ protest when the courts closed the station down in January. Now he is either the front man for or the organizer of an impressive group of big-money swats: Oleg Kiselev (no relation), head of Metalloinvest; Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich, a former Berezovsky business partner; Anatoly Chubais, former deputy prime minister and current head of the national electric-power holding company UES; Oleg Deripaska, director of Russian Aluminum; bankers Aleksandr Mamut and Andrei Melnychenko; and others. Some of these names (Abramovich, Deripaska, Mamut) are said to have ties to the “Family” of Yeltsin insiders….
The main rival to Sixth Channel appears to be a nonprofit partnership organized by former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, now head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Arkady Volsky, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. “Appears to be” because neither Primakov nor Volsky will speak for the record, and Primakov canceled a press conference on Monday. It is not clear where the Primakov-Volsky group will get its money, but both men are close to a number of “Red Directors,” Soviet-era managers who acquired ownership of their enterprises in the postcommunist era. The Primakov-Volsky group may also have support from VGTRK, the state-owned broadcasting holding company that controls the ORT and RTR networks. The website Gazeta.ru says that the Primakov/Volsky group has Putin’s support.
The auction could be more fizzle than sizzle. The Kiselev group, which as of this writing had not been officially registered as a bidder, says it is in negotiations with Primakov/Volsky. A joint bid between a for-profit consortium and a not-for-profit partnership (which must reinvest all profits in the enterprise) seems implausible, but Putin’s Russia favors coalition over competition and Primakov’s gray over Kiselev’s color.
For the loser in the TV-6 contest, a bigger prize may become available. Gazprom says it intends to sell its media holdings, including NTV, later this year.