The Press Ministry’s auction for the broadcasting license of TV-6, the national television channel majority owned by Boris Berezovsky that was taken off the air in January, will be held at the end of this month. But it may already be possible to identify the probable winner.
The Gazeta.ru website reported yesterday that former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who currently heads the nongovernmental Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Arkady Volsky, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), the country’s leading industrialist’s group, have created a noncommercial partnership to bid for TV-6’s license. They will be joined by leading academics, “cosmonauts, writers and hockey players,” the website claimed, adding–significantly–that the Primakov/Volsky partnership has received President Vladimir Putin’s personal backing. This would appear to give it an advantage over another group of investors that has been set up to bid for the TV-6 license–a consortium called “Shestoi Telekanal” (Sixth Channel). This was formed by a group of twelve leading oligarchs, including Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich, former MDM Bank chairman Alexander Mamut, Russian Aluminum director Oleg Deripaska and United Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais. Yevgeny Kiselev, TV-6’s general director, has joined up with Sixth Channel.
According to Gazeta.ru, however, Primakov and Volsky have already tried to convince Kiselev to switch sides. Their attempts, however, have apparently been unsuccessful thus far, perhaps because the deal Kiselev and the TV-6 journalists team reportedly cut with Sixth Channel gives them 10 percent of the company and an option to buy another 10-percent stake once it has become self-financing. The Primakov/Volsky partnership, for its part, is not-for-profit and thus, besides offering little in the way of financial incentives, would make Kiselev and his team fully dependent on whomever finances them. On the other hand, Gazeta.ru reported that the Primakov/Volsky group has certain advantages over its rival. That is, it has received support from Press Minister Mikhail Lesin and been registered as a media outlet by the Press Ministry. Sixth Channel, on the other hand, put in its request to be registered as a media outlet only last Friday (March 1). The ministry is legally obligated to respond to such a request within a month, meaning that it could choose not to register the company before March 27, the day TV-6’s license will be auctioned. This, of course, would effectively keep Sixth Channel from participating in the auction (Gazeta.ru, March 3; NTV.ru, March 2).
According to some observers, the Union of Right-Wing Forces, which includes Chubais among its leaders, helped put together the Sixth Channel consortium, with the Kremlin’s blessing. Keeping Kiselev and the old TV-6 team at the new TV-6 would shield the Kremlin from charges that it is limiting press freedom while putting the channel in the hands of a group of tycoons who are at a minimum not oppositionists in the mould of Berezovsky or Media-Most founder Vladimir Gusinsky (see the Monitor, February 28).
If, however, the Gazeta.ru report is accurate, it suggests that the Kremlin does not fully trust the motives of the tycoons who people the Sixth Channel consortium. Indeed, while they are all members of Volsky’s RSPP, they are also for the most part connected to the Family, the group of Yeltsin-era Kremlin insiders. Volsky and Primakov, on the other hand, were always closer to the so-called “red directors,” as the corpus of late Soviet-era industrial managers is known. These were both generally hostile to the Yeltsin-era oligarchs and always more “centrist” than “liberal” in their stated political orientation.
If Putin is indeed backing a Volsky/Primakov bid for TV-6’s license, he might be reflecting the interests of the “Chekists,” the group of Kremlin insiders dominated by St. Petersburg KGB veterans and long-time Putin associates said to be in an ongoing power struggle with the Family. Gazeta.ru reported that two other powerful entities are also behind the Volsky/Primakov bid for TV-6. First is VGTRK, the state television and radio company that includes RTR state television. The other, Russian Public Television (ORT), the 51-percent state-owned channel. The reasoning of these Sixth Channel tycoons, according to the website, is that ORT and RTR have absolutely no interest in seeing a new relatively high-quality independent television channel–which a new TV-6 majority-owned by a wealthy oligarchic consortium could become–that could cut into their own ratings (Gazeta.ru, March 3).
But there is an additional player in the upcoming bidding war. Former TV-6 executive director Pavel Korchagin, in an alliance with the TPG Aurora investment fund, also plans to bid for TV-6’s broadcast license on March 27 (Kommersant, March 2). Last December, TPG Aurora, which is part of the U.S.-based Texas Pacific Group investment fund and owns stakes in MTV Russia and Russkoye Radio, offered to buy out TV-6 and reportedly held what were ultimately unsuccessful talks with Berezovsky (see the Monitor, December 17, 2001; January 2).
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