Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 165

A politically tinged scandal involving the media has been unfolding in Lipetsk Oblast over the last several weeks. At the center of the scandal is a local television channel, TVK, whose offices and studios were taken over late last month on the order of several major shareholders closely connected to Lipetsk Oblast Governor Oleg Korolev. This time–ironically, some observers would say–the federal Press Ministry has weighed in on the side of the ousted management, ordering that the station cease broadcasting for ten days.

The scandal broke out on August 30, when a force of private security guards took over the studio and offices of TVK. They were acting on behalf of a company called Energia, which claimed that it had acquired a controlling stake in TVK and was trying to oust Aleksandr Lykov, the station’s general director. The takeover took place despite the fact that earlier court decisions had prohibited Energia from calling a meeting of TVK’s shareholders, which must be held before any changes in the station’s management can be made. According to Lykov, a “shareholders’ meeting” of sorts was held in the office of Lipetsk Oblast Vice Governor Sergei Dorovsky, during which Lykov was ousted and replaced by Dmitry Kolbasko, a former TVK computer programmer (Kommersant, August 30). On September 3, on the orders of the Press Ministry, VGTRK–the state television and radio company that controls the country’s broadcast signals–cut TVK’s broadcasts. The Press Ministry claimed that the rights of the station’s journalists had been violated and that court decisions had been ignored (Russian agencies, September 4).

On September 6, TVK’s journalists, with the help of court bailiffs, were able to enter their offices, where they barricaded themselves and have vowed to remain until the dispute is settled. Meanwhile, the new management’s private security guards blockaded the entrances to the television station (Radio Ekho Moskvy, September 6). Lykov called on the federal Prosecutor General’s Office and Justice and Interior Ministries to intervene, saying that it was impossible to get help from any of the local law enforcement or judicial organs (, September 6). Lykov and the TVK journalists have received moral support from Eduard Sagalaev, president of the National Association of Television and Radio Broadcasting. In an appeal directed to the Lipetsk Oblast Prosecutor’s Office, Sagalaev expressed concern over the fate of TVK, which he called one of Russia’s strongest independent media companies (Radio Ekho Moskvy, September 3).

The TVK journalists believe that they are the victims of political repression. First, gubernatorial elections are scheduled to take place in Lipetsk Oblast in April 2002. Second, prior to the takeover, TVK, one of the most popular media outlets in the region, regularly criticized the sitting governor, Oleg Korolev. According to Lykov, the attempted takeover was aimed at “crushing” the company and subordinating it to the oblast’s administration in advance of the elections (Kommersant, August 30). The TVK journalists said that they had spoken to Governor Korolev by telephone at the start of the conflict, and that he had claimed to know nothing about an attempt to seize the television station (Kommersant, August 30).

The situation surrounding TVK is hardly unique. Indeed, it bares an uncanny resemblance to the Kremlin-backed takeover earlier this year of NTV television by Gazprom, the state-controlled natural gas monopoly (see the Monitor, April 6, 9, 16). Many regional leaders saw the NTV takeover as a signal that they could do whatever they wanted with media in their own regions. Since then, the number of violations of Russia’s press law, which were already high, have become such common practice in Russia’s provinces that the country’s press law can now be said to exist on paper only. The situation in Lipetsk is ironic, however, given the support that the embattled TVK journalists have received from the federal Press Ministry. That ministry is headed by Mikhail Lesin, who, according to many observers, played a key role in Gazprom’s takeover of NTV. What is more, TVK’s journalists, in opposing Governor Korolev, have declared their support for President Vladimir Putin, who, many observers believe, gave the NTV takeover his blessing. Demonstrations in support of TVK have featured placards declaring: “Putin is our president! Korolev–hands off TVK!” (Kommersant, August 30). Irony aside, the conflict surrounding the TVK television station on the eve of the Lipetsk’s governor’s race has given the Kremlin a useful pretext for interfering in the region’s political life.