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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 09:11 GMT
Russian station taken off air
TV-6 director Yevgeny Kiselyov (r), with TV-6 satirist Viktor Shenderovich talking on Echo Radio
TV-6 staff describe the action against them as a coup
The last independent national television station in Russia, TV-6, has been taken off the air, following a decision by the Media Ministry to revoke its broadcasting licence.

It looks like some kind of a television coup - the authorities today showed that their single goal is to gag us

TV-6 director Yevgeny Kiselyov
Moves against the station came to a head earlier this month, when a court ruled that TV-6 should close because it was losing money.

Critics of the closure, including opposition politicians and many who work at the station, say it is an attempt to stifle media dissent. Some say TV-6 was suppressed because of its critical reporting of the conflict in Chechnya.

The Kremlin maintains it is purely a business dispute.

Main TV-6 shareholder, Boris Berezovsky
TV-6 was offered a deal if it dropped its boss - Boris Berezovsky
But TV-6 director Yevgeny Kiselyov said on Monday that the government had previously offered to do a deal with the station, under which its journalists could stay on air as long as they broke with TV-6's owner, Boris Berezovsky - a sharp critic of the government.

The journalists initially agreed to the deal, then backed out.

Reports said the station's broadcasts in St Petersburg had been replaced with the ballet, Swan Lake.

The BBC's Jacky Rowland in Moscow says the controversy is threatening to tarnish the image President Vladimir Putin has created for himself by supporting the US-led war on terrorism.

If... TV-6 no longer exists in its present form, we will only be able to speak about free speech in this country in quotation marks

Liberal politician Boris Nemtsov
"It looks like some kind of a television coup," Mr Kiselyov told Moscow's Echo radio station.

"The authorities today showed that their single goal is to gag us."

He said power supplies, telephone lines and internet connections had all been cut off.

TV-6 spokeswoman Tatyana Blinova said that after the station dropped off the airwaves at midnight (2100 GMT) the staff would discuss their plans through the night and would find a way to protest against the closure.

President Vladimir Putin
President Putin's international standing could be threatened
When Russia's top arbitration court on 11 January ordered that TV-6 should be dissolved, Ms Blinova had said the station could appeal to the constitutional court under new legislation which bars a minority shareholder from calling for a company's liquidation.

The case against TV-6 was brought by a subsidiary of the oil company - Lukoil - a minor shareholder closely linked to the government.

TV-6's staff came from NTV, another independent Russian station which was sold to the media arm of the state-owned gas company, Gazprom, last year.

The Media Ministry is putting TV-6 up for tender in March or April.

The head of Russia's leading liberal party, Boris Nemtsov of the Union of Right Forces warned that "if in April TV-6 no longer exists in its present form, we will only be able to speak about free speech in this country in quotation marks."

See also:

11 Jan 02 | Europe
Independent Russian TV shut down
25 Apr 01 | Europe
Russian tycoon flees to Israel
16 Apr 01 | Europe
New blow against Gusinsky media
14 Apr 01 | Europe
Analysis: The battle for NTV
09 Apr 01 | TV and Radio
Eastern Europe's media revolution
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