Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 62

The long-awaited tender for the right to broadcast over the airwaves of what was once Boris Berezovsky’s TV-6 took place yesterday, and the results surprised no one. The tender was won by Media-Socium, a noncommercial partnership led by former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who now heads the nongovernmental Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Arkady Volsky, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Media-Socium entered the battle for TV-6’s license earlier this year, apparently with the backing of President Vladimir Putin, who reportedly did not want the license to fall under the sole control of a consortium called “Shestoi Telekanal” (Sixth Channel). Sixth Channel includes former TV-6 general director Yevgeny Kiselev, his team of journalists and a group of leading oligarchs. It was reportedly also set up with the backing of the Kremlin. The two groups ultimately cut a deal to form a united front and bid for the TV-6 license jointly. There was little doubt among either the twelve rival bidders or outside observers that the Federal Licensing Commission, the body that ran yesterday’s tender under the chairmanship of Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, would make the “right” choice and grant the license to the Media-Socium/Sixth Channel team.

There has, since Berezovsky’s TV-6 was taken off the air earlier this year, in fact been little doubt that its airwaves would wind up under the control of a person or entity closely connected to the Kremlin. The subsequent Media-Socium/Sixth Channel imbroglio seems to have been a reflection of the continuing factionalism inside the Kremlin and the government. Indeed, it may be the case that the Sixth Channel consortium–made up of twelve powerful tycoons, including Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich, former MDM Bank chairman Alexander Mamut, Russian Aluminum director Oleg Deripaska and United Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais–received the backing of some top officials (including, perhaps, Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov). But because it includes such leading Yeltsin-era oligarchs as Abramovich and Mamut, it was probably regarded with suspicion and hostility by other top officials–particularly those known as “Chekists” (owing to their careers in the KGB and its successor agencies)–and possibly even Putin himself. Thus, the addition of Primakov, who once headed foreign intelligence and is known for his antipathy to some of the leading Yeltsin-era oligarchs, and of Volsky, who was personal economic adviser to the late Yury Andropov, the long-time KGB chief who briefly led the Soviet Union, satisfied the concerns of a powerful new faction in officialdom, which may be the one closest politically to the president himself. In fact, the pecking order at the new sixth channel might be viewed as a reflection of the new pecking order at the top, in which Yeltsin-era tycoons still play a powerful role but are held in check by a group of special services veterans.

Whatever the case, it is interesting to note that a member of the Federal Licensing Commission, the well-known TV personality Vladimir Posner, said the addition of Primakov and Volsky to the bidding was “very clearly” a “gambit” by Putin to ensure that the new channel was in the hands of people “more under his control” (Washington Post, March 25, 27;, March 27; Moscow Times, March 28; see also the Monitor, March 4). All of this, of course, raises serious questions over whether the new station broadcasting on the sixth channel will be truly independent, despite the fact that it will be run by the respected Kiselev and his team of journalists. One leading observer, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, said yesterday that he doubted Media-Socium would be capable of creating “a genuinely free, independent and honest channel” (Interfax, March 27).