The Moscow Arbitration Court rendered a verdict on Monday (November 26) that effectively dooms TV-6, the television channel 75-percent owned by tycoon and former Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky (NTV.ru, November 26). The court reaffirmed its decision of September 27, when it found in favor of Lukoil-Garant, an affiliate of the oil giant Lukoil and holder of a 15-percent stake in TV-6, which had filed a suit demanding the liquidation of MNVK, the company that formally owns TV-6. Lukoil-Garant accused MNVK of mismanaging TV-6 and causing the channel’s shares to drop sharply in value (see the Monitor, October 23). TV-6 now has thirty days to appeal Monday’s decision and has indicated it will do so. However, TV-6’s general director, Yevgeny Kiselev, said in a press conference yesterday: “The chances of surviving this struggle are not great” (Gazeta.ru, November 27). While Berezovsky’s ownership of TV-6 cast a shadow on the channel’s credibility, it is nevertheless the last remaining independent television channel in Russia reaching a national audience. TV-6’s demise would have additional significance given the fact that it provided refuge for journalists from Vladimir Gusinsky’s NTV when that television channel’s management was ousted earlier this year as a result of a takeover by Gazprom, the state-controlled natural gas monopoly.
Immediately following Monday’s verdict against TV-6, Berezovsky said he believed that President Vladimir Putin was personally responsible for it (Kommersant, November 27). Likewise, Kiselev charged during yesterday’s press conference that the court decision was part of an ongoing Kremlin-inspired campaign to silence Russia’s independent media. Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, who played a controversial role in NTV’s battle with Gazprom and the Prosecutor General’s Office, said he regretted the order to liquidate TV-6 because Russia’s “media business” had already suffered enough “turmoil,” but added that he would uphold the law. At the same time, Lesin accused “certain politicians, heads of this company [TV-6] and public figures” of trying to “inflame passions and compete in rhetoric” and called for an end to attacks on “the judicial authorities” who, he said were being subjected to “Jesuitical torture” by Kiselev for having ruled against TV-6. Lesin also charged that Kiselev, who hosts TV-6’s weekly political analysis program “Itogi,” was turning the channel into “an arena of political passions” (Kommersant, November 27).
Politicians of a variety of ideological hues have taken Kiselev’s side in this debate. Sergei Ivanenko, deputy head of the Yabloko party, called the court decision clearing the way for TV-6’s liquidation “a continuation of the policy aimed at depriving our society of the ability to receive independent information.” On the other side of the political spectrum, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov accused the authorities of trying to concentrate “information resources” in the hands of “a single Voloshin group,” referring to Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin. “Now the mass media sphere is being formed in the interests of a new oligarchy,” Zyuganov said (NTV.ru, Moscow Times, November 28). Interestingly, a number of the top members of pro-Kremlin “centrist” groups have also said they regret the decision to liquidate TV-6. These include Lyubov Sliska, a State Duma deputy speaker and member of the Unity party, Vladimir Pekhtin, the head of Unity’s faction in the Duma, and Vyacheslav Volodin, head of the Fatherland-All Russia Duma faction, and even Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. The only exception is Gennady Raikov, head of the pro-Kremlin People’s Deputy faction in the Duma, who called the court decision part of a “normal” judicial process and added that the channel might nonetheless survive, losing only its management. Misha Fishman, an analyst with the Polit.ru website, noted that none of the “centrists” now supporting Berezovsky’s TV-6 spoke out in defense of Gusinsky’s NTV (Polit.ru, November 28; NTV.ru, November 27).
On the other hand, there is likely to be little outcry from the public when and if TV-6 is closed down: Kiselev himself cited polling data showing that 70 percent of Russians would react to such an outcome more or less indifferently. “If sociological research had been taken in 1974, I think that 90 percent of the citizens of the USSR would have been completely indifferent to Solzhenitsyn’s expulsion abroad… and to Sakharov’s exile to Gorky in 1980,” Kiselev added. “And to the deaths of our soldiers in Afghanistan during the first half of the 1980s and to the [persecution of] dissidents. And would have applauded 1938 [Stalin’s purges]” (Gazeta.ru, November 27). Kiselev also suggested that the warming of relations between Moscow and Washington was a factor in the court decision concerning TV-6. “One cannot escape the feeling that the Kremlin believes its support for the counterterrorist operation… gives it carte blanche for internal affairs within the country,” he said (Moscow Times, November 28). Asked earlier this week about TV-6, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said he could not address the specifics of the case, but said it remained “the strong position of the United States that a free media is essential to the kind of modern democratic society that Russia wants to build” (Washington Post, November 27).
FORUM ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN CHECHNYA BEGINS IN STRASBOURG.