Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 15

TV-6, Russia’s last major privately owned national television channel, went off the air last night at midnight, Moscow time, when the Press Ministry acted to comply with a court order that it immediately suspend the channel’s license. The order, which bailiffs delivered yesterday, was pursuant to the Higher Arbitration Court’s ruling of January 11 that TV-6’s parent company, the Moscow Independent Broadcasting Corporation (MNVK), which is majority owned by Boris Berezovsky, should be liquidated. The decision was the final in a series of court rulings triggered last year when Lukoil-Garant–the pension fund of Lukoil, Russia’s largest oil company, which holds a 15-percent stake in MNVK–sued MNVK on grounds that it was operating at a loss (see the Monitor, January 11, 14).

Last week, TV-6’s staff, led by its general director, Yevgeny Kiselev, agreed to surrender the channel’s broadcasting license and formed a new company that planned to bid for the license in an auction scheduled for late March. The new company did not include Berezovsky as a shareholder. On Monday, however, Kiselev renounced the deal. The Press Ministry, he said, had threatened to take him off the air if he refused to give up the license. Furthermore, he noted, only the shareholders had the right to surrender it. TV-6 journalist Andrei Norkin backed this up, saying, more specifically, that Press Minister Mikhail Lesin and Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin had given the channel the ultimatum of either surrendering the license or being taken off the air immediately (Moscow Times, January 22). These comments echoed Berezovsky’s of last week, who claimed that Lesin had called MNVK general director Pavel Korchagin and said he would ensure that TV-6’s journalists got control of the channel as long as neither Berezovsky nor Media-Most founder Vladimir Gusinsky were among its shareholders. According to Berezovsky, Voloshin subsequently called Korchagin to say he supported Lesin’s deal. Berezovsky called Lesin’s and Voloshin’s intercessions “secret blackmail” (see the Monitor, January 16). Both Berezovsky and Kiselev, along with other TV-6 staffers and supporters, have charged that the legal proceedings against the channel are part of a Kremlin-inspired political campaign against Russia’s independent media.

Following the cutting of TV-6’s signal last night and a period of dead air, the channel’s programming was replaced by sports programming from the satellite television channel NTV-Plus. TV-6’s staff met today at the channel’s studios and offices at the Ostankino television center in Moscow, apparently to discuss what to do next. Electricity to the channel’s broadcasting center was reportedly cut off, along with telephone lines and Internet connections (, January 22). Radio Ekho Moskvy, the last vestige of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most empire, has agreed to extend the use of its airwaves for TV-6 news programs–the audio portions of these programs, in any case (, January 22).

As of mid-afternoon today, Moscow time, Berezovsky had not commented on the latest developments. Kiselev, however, was quoted as saying that he held President Vladimir Putin directly responsible for the decision to pull TV-6’s plug (CNN, January 22). Aleksei Volin, deputy head of the Russian government’s apparatus, said the government saw no political subtext to TV-6’s removal from the airwaves. “It is simply a matter of a court ruling being implemented, and thus there is no reason to speak of changes in the situation regarding freedom of the press in Russia,” Volin said. He insisted that “up until the last moment” everything possible had been done to keep TV-6’s journalists on the air, but that all possibilities had now been “exhausted” (, January 22).

Meanwhile, Boris Nemtsov, head of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) claimed there were many people ready to help TV-6 and even invest in it, but admitted that whatever happens, the channel would not continue to exist in its current form. “Putin wanted to sort out Berezovsky, but [instead] sorted out the television viewers and freedom of the press,” Nemtsov said. State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said that now, de facto, only state television existed in Russia and that this state of affairs violated Russia’s constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to receive information from sources independent of the state (, January 22).