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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 12:24 GMT
Putin blamed for TV shutdown
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 head of Russia's last national independent television station has angrily blamed President Vladimir Putin for its forced closure.

The authorities pulled the plug on TV6 at midnight on Monday, abruptly ending its transmissions.

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
TV-6 viewers in Moscow on Tuesday found themselves watching sports programmes instead, while in St Petersburg the ballet Swan Lake was reportedly broadcast.

The Kremlin has insisted that the long-running row between the Russian authorities and TV-6 is based on its failure to make money.

But the closure has sparked fresh claims that the real issue is freedom of speech.

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.

Main TV-6 shareholder, Boris Berezovsky
TV-6 was offered a deal if it dropped its boss - Boris Berezovsky
TV-6 has been a persistent critic of government policy, especially over the war in Chechnya.

"I have no doubt (the closure) was the president's decision," said TV-6 director Yeveny Kiselyov.

"Russia is heading towards an authoritarian and totalitarian regime."

TV-6's power supplies, telephone lines and internet connections have all been cut off, the station says.

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
TV-6 anchorman Andrei Norkin, on his way to a meeting of angry station staff, told reporters: "Our government officials are very consistent. They did everything they could (to shut down the station)."

The closure of TV-6 comes only months after the forced shutdown of national news channel NTV, which was also noted for its willingness to criticise the government.

Most of NTV's staff had gone on to work for TV-6.

Russia's Press Minister, Mikhail Lesin, said it remained possible that TV-6 staff could win back their own licence if the firm could "organise itself and solve its problems".

President Vladimir Putin
President Putin's international standing could be threatened
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.

But Mr Kiselyov has said 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.

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

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."

The BBC's Jacky Rowland in Moscow
"Things are not looking good for the media"
The BBC's Stephen Dalziel
"To say it's a business matter sounds ridiculous"
Pavel Korchagin, Executive Director, TV-6
"At midnight our signal went off"
See also:

22 Jan 02 | Europe
Viewpoint: Russian deja-vu
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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