On the other hand, the fortnight saw some rather ominous developments on the political front, particularly in the area of press freedom. Media-Socium, a non-commercial partnership headed by Yevgeny Primakov, the former prime minister, and Arkady Volsky, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, won the broadcast license previously held by Boris Berezovsky’s TV-6, which was taken off the air earlier this year. Primakov and Volsky had teamed up for the bidding with another group, Sixth Channel, made up of leading oligarchs like United Energy Systems head Anatoly Chubais, Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich, former MDM Bank chairman Alexander Mamut and Russian Aluminum director Oleg Deripaska, and the team of journalists led by Yevgeny Kiselev, the NTV television veteran and former TV-6 general director slated to become the new sixth channel’s chief editor. Most observers were of the view that the Kremlin had tapped Primakov and Volsky to ensure the new channel’s political loyalty. This impression was bolstered after the auction, when Primakov said he hoped there would be “a certain degree of censorship” at the new channel–or, he said by way of clarification, “self-censorship.”
Meanwhile, Igor Zotov, a deputy chief editor at another Berezovsky media property, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, was ordered to appear at the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office to be formally charged with libel. The charge stemmed from an article the paper ran last November alleging that three judges involved in the criminal case against Anatoly Bykov, the former head of the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Factory, who is standing trial on charges of ordering the murder of a business associate, had been bribed. Both Nezavisimaya Gazeta and others, including the Russian chapter of the PEN-Center, the international writer’s organization, charged that the case against Zotov was part of an officially sanctioned political campaign against the paper.
The fortnight ended on a particularly somber note, with the news that the 18-year-old son of Aleksei Simonov, the veteran human rights and free speech advocate who heads the Glasnost Protection Fund, died after apparently falling from the eleventh floor of his Moscow apartment building. Just a few days earlier, Valery Batuev, a special correspondent for the weekly Moskovskie Novosti who had reported from many of the world’s hot spots, including Chechnya, was murdered during a burglary of his apartment. While there were no indications–at least as the fortnight came to a close–that Kirill Simonov and Valery Batuev were the victims of political murders (and police reported that Batuev’s murderers, including a young drifter from Belarus, had been caught and had confessed), the state’s increasingly tight grip on the media made rumors and speculation to that effect seem less implausible.