Russia Shuts Down Independent TV Station

The station’s end was abrupt, with a blank screen and then a test pattern interrupting a talk show host in mid-sentence.

Russian officials also severed the station’s electrical supply, as well as connections to telephone and Internet lines.

The move comes after a Moscow court decided Jan. 11 to liquidate TV6 after a minority shareholder accused the station of failing to turn a profit.

That shareholder, the pension fund Lukoil-Garant, owns a 15 percent stake in TV6. Lukoil-Garant is controlled by Russian oil giant Lukoil, which, in turn, is minority owned by the Russian government.

TV6 has the fourth-largest share of Russia’s television audience, even though its broadcasts do not reach all of the country.

Seventy-five percent of TV6’s shares are owned by Boris Berezovsky, a millionaire in self-imposed exile who is of the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin.

Last week, TV6’s journalists voluntarily surrendered the station’s broadcast license and formed a new company without Berezovsky to fight for transmission rights themselves.

But on Monday TV6 General Manager Yevgeny Kiselyov said the managers decided they hadn’t had the right to surrender the broadcast license and only did so because of Kremlin pressure to drop Berezovsky.

“We were told: This your last chance. Take it or we in the Press Ministry will take you off the air,” Kiselyov told The Moscow Times. “We trembled and lost our composure.”

Kiselyov and his fellow managers said only the station’s stockholders could officially hand over TV6’s broadcast license.

Kremlin Media Minister Mikhail Lesin told The Moscow Times the decision to close TV6 was not related to the failed negotiations with station journalists. He said Lukoil-Garant was “not happy with the peace process” and had put pressure on the court to send bailiffs to begin the liquidation process.

Muzzling the media?

Critics say the closure is Moscow’s way of silencing the independent media, especially outlets like TV6 that have been critical of the Putin administration.

“The Kremlin is preparing for the next presidential election, and it wants all four federal channels singing the same tune of loyalty and approval,” Igor Klyamkin, director of the Institute of Sociological Analysis, a Russian think tank, told The Los Angeles Times. “The Kremlin demonstrated to every mass medium, to every journalist that it can close down a major television channel just like that.”

Yevgeny Kiselyov, TV6’s general director said the move resembled “some kind of a television coup.

“The authorities today showed that their single goal is to gag us,” he told Ekho Moskvy, a Moscow-based independent radio station.

Ekho Moskvy said it would begin broadcasting a news report prepared by TV6 staff, Reuters reported.

Lesin said bidding for permanent rights to TV6’s frequency will begin in March — a process he says he hopes will move quickly.

“I don’t know yet how, but I hope we will find a way to fulfill our promise to television viewers, and the picture won’t go dark,” he said on NTV.

For now, other stations are temporarily broadcasting in TV6’s place. In Moscow, satellite broadcaster NTV-Plus piped in its sports programming on channel 6.

According to Reuters, TV6’s local partner in St. Petersburg showed Swan Lake, a ballet traditionally aired after Soviet leaders died. It was also broadcast after Russian hardliners attempted a coup in 1991.