Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 17

Russian politicians, public figures and media have been reacting to this week’s shutdown of TV-6, and most of the commentary has been negative. Among the pithiest comments came from Vladimir Lukin, the former Russian ambassador to the United States who is now a deputy State Duma speaker. “For the first time since the Brezhnev period, I have a feeling of constant, dull shame for my country,” Lukin said. Calling TV-6 “the only channel that took independent positions on a whole series of issues, even if I did not agree with some [of them],” Lukin said that the channel’s shutdown would create “big problems” for the image of Russia and President Vladimir Putin (Radio Ekho Moskvy, January 23). Lukin, of course, is a member of the liberal Yabloko party, but the negative reaction to TV-6’s shutdown crossed ideological lines. For example, Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), called the Press Ministry’s decision to cut TV-6’s signal “totally inadmissible” (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, January 23).

More predictably, TV-6’s shutdown was roundly condemned by human rights and press freedom activists. Sergei Kovalev, the veteran human rights campaigner of both the Soviet and post-Soviet periods, dismissed out of hand the government’s insistence that the order to cut the channel’s signal, made by the Press Ministry on the basis of a January 11 Higher Arbitration Court ruling that the channel’s parent company was insolvent and thus warranted liquidation, was simply the end result of a legal dispute between the station’s shareholders (meaning Boris Berezovsky, the majority shareholder, and the Lukoil petroleum giant, which holds a minority stake and sued last year to have the channel liquidated). “[A]ll of these disputes are ordered by the supreme authorities, who are typically lying when they say they cannot interfere in the legal process,” Kovalev said. “They are lying because they are directly interfering in the legal process, ordering up the arbitration court’s decision for purely political reasons.” The authorities’ actions, Kovalev concluded, are aimed at establishing a “managed democracy,” which, he said, is possible only with “a managed press and a managed judiciary.” It should be noted that Veniamin Yakovlev, chairman of the Higher Arbitration Court, categorically denied that anyone had pressured the court to rule against TV-6. Boris Nemtsov, head of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), was earlier quoted as saying that Yakovlev had told him high-level officials had demanded that TV-6 be shut down (Radio Ekho Moskvy, January 23).

Aleksei Simonov, head of the Glasnost Protection Fund, called TV-6’s shutdown “an abomination.” “We simply make a monstrous mistake… thinking all the time that they [the authorities] are playing with us according to some kind of [civilized] rules,” Simonov added. “They are playing with us according to the rules of bandits: This government, unfortunately neither knows nor recognizes any other kind of rules” (Radio Ekho Moskvy, January 23). Igor Yakovenko, chairman of the Union of Journalists of Russia, called the TV-6 shutdown “a political action [aimed] at rooting out dissent on Russian television” (Radio Ekho Moskvy, January 22).

What support there was for the decision to cut TV-6’s signal came from supporters of President Vladimir Putin. Gennady Raikov, leader of the pro-Kremlin People’s Deputy faction in the State Duma, said the order to take TV-6 off the air was simply a matter of the law being enforced (Interfax, January 22). His view was shared by Viktor Pleskachevsky, a member of the pro-Putin Unity party who sits on the State Duma’s security committee. “Everyone must live in the same legal space, and there must be no exceptions for anyone,” Pleskachevsky said. Asked to comment on the TV-6 controversy, Aleksandr Kotenkov, Putin’s representative in the Duma, said: “Considering that this is a conflict between shareholders, I wouldn’t want to give an assessment.” He added, however, that he saw “no politics” in the battle surrounding the channel (, January 22).