Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 26

A group of leading democratic politicians yesterday issued a statement protesting the closure of TV-6, the private national television network majority-owned by Boris Berezovsky. The channel’s signal was cut January 22 on the orders of Russia’s Press Ministry, which was acting on a Higher Arbitration Court ruling that TV-6 be liquidated.

The statement of protest is worth quoting in full: “The closure of the TV-6 television channel, however you feel about its owners, has returned Russia to a situation in which national television, the information source most accessible to citizens, is de facto monopolized by the government. In such a situation it is not possible to have a public discussion from all sides about the authorities’ actions at all levels, or to fight either corruption or the tyranny of bureaucrats, which means that the quick development of the economy, with the goal of improving people’s lives, is [also] not possible. It is especially deplorable that the imperfections of the legal system were exploited in the liquidation of TV-6 and the authority of the judicial branch once again damaged. We believe that only with existence of different points of view on the TV screen–which can be provided only by having a variety of owners of television channels, including public, private and state–can a society be created in which the government exists for its citizens.”

Among the signatories to the statement were former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev; former Finance Minister Boris Federov, who now heads the “Forward, Russia!” movement; Yelena Bonner and Sergei Kovalev, the veteran human rights activists; Oleg Orlov, the head of the Memorial human rights group; Grigory Yavlinsky, head of Yabloko; Boris Nemtsov, head of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS); Konstantin Borovoi, head of the Party of Economic Freedom; Aleksei Simonov, head of the Glasnost Protection Fund; and Igor Yakovenko, head of The Union of Journalists of Russia (SeverInform, February 5).

At the same time, the results of a poll carried out late last month show the degree to which the liberal intelligentsia’s concern over TV-6’s fate is not share by average Russians. The poll was conducted by the All Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) over January 25-28 among 1,600 Russians from eighty-three towns and cities in thirty-three of Russia’s eighty-nine regions.

VTsIOM asked the respondents whether they had heard about TV-6’s closure and, if so, how they felt about it. Twenty-one percent chose the word “bewilderment” to describe their feelings, 11 percent picked “indignation,” five percent chose “alarm,” four percent chose “satisfaction,” none picked “fear,” 38 percent said they had “no emotions at all” about TV-6’s closure, 18 percent said they had not heard about the closure. Three percent said the question was hard to answer. Asked what they thought was the main reason for TV-6’s closure, 43 percent said “a conflict between ‘economic subjects'” (this is more or less the explanation President Vladimir Putin and his supporters gave), and 33 percent said “political circumstances (more or less the explanation given by Berezovsky, the TV-6 team and their supporters). Twenty-four percent said the question was difficult to answer.

Asked whether they thought Putin was involved in deciding the station’s fate, 27 percent said they thought neither the head of state nor members of his inner circle intervened in the decision, 32 percent said they thought Putin had not intervened but that members of his inner circle had, 8 percent said they thought Putin himself took the main decisions regarding TV-6’s fate, 33 percent said it was a difficult question to answer. Asked who they thought lost most from TV-6’s closure, 36 percent said the TV-6 journalists, 20 percent said television viewers, 18 percent said Berezovsky, 9 percent said democracy in Russia. Seventeen percent said the question was hard to answer. Asked whether they supported Press Minister Mikhail Lesin’s decision to replace TV-6’s programming temporarily with sports programming from the NTV-Plus satellite channel, especially since NTV-Plus plans to broadcast the Winter Olympics from Salt Lake City, 52 percent said they backed Lesin’s decision and 12 percent said they did not. Thirty-six percent said it was hard to say (, January 31).

Putin has ordered the government to study the feasibility of a national sport channel, and there has been talk that TV-6 will become that channel. A tender for the station’s license is set for March 27 (see the Monitor, January 31).