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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 22:57 GMT
Viewpoint: Russian deja-vu
Journalists leave the TV-6 building on Monday night
Some journalists are hoping to go back to work
By TV-6 political analyst Alim Yusupov

My girlfriend called me at five past midnight and, without saying hello, asked: "Is that it?"

I had no idea what she was talking about. After watching the last news bulletin on TV6 at 11pm, I had blithely switched over to a music channel.

Of course, I knew that the day before, court marshals had appeared at the media ministry, demanding the suspension of TV6's licence, but no-one expected the end would come so quickly.

The media ministry sometimes goes to great pains to observe all the correct bureaucratic procedures, but on this occasion it took a very informal approach.

Transformation

At precisely midnight, electricity, telephones and access to news agencies and the internet were cut off at the TV-6 offices.

This happened during a musical chat show, "Nightingale night", with one-and-a-half hours to go before the end of the day's programmes. A test card appeared on the screen, which I examined, trying to answer the question put to me: "Is that it?"

Yevgeny Kiselyov
Kiselyov hoped his staff would find a haven at TV-6
The whole situation was shockingly similar to the one we found ourselves in less than a year ago, on 14 April 2001, with NTV.

Then too I was called in the middle of the night and told that station's security staff had been replaced, and that new bosses appointed by the state gas monopoly, Gazprom, had appeared in the offices.

Then about 300 people, headed by Yevgeny Kiselyov, quit the channel, crossing over to TV-6 in the hope that there we would find a haven, and a chance to work in the way we thought necessary.

We arrived at a marginal television station, with an average daily rating of between 4% to 6% of the audience, but after a few months of concerted effort it had became one of the country's leading broadcasters.

Hunting the enemy

At TV-6 we sincerely believed, to begin with, that the authorities would not bother to pursue those they had conquered at NTV - at such great cost to their reputation - and would give itself and others a chance to correct the monstrous mistake of April 2001.

However, we probably underestimated the vengeful inertia of the state machine.

With maniacal persistence the authorities are hunting down those they consider their enemies while destroying, perhaps, the only unarguable achievement of Russia's years of reform, freedom of speech.

Unfortunately, this mania does not have a single face.

It is not Vladimir Putin, nor the Media Minister, Mikhail Lesin, nor the head of the Federal Security Service, Nikolai Patrushev, nor the prosecutor-general Vladimir Ustinov.

It is all of them together - and also dozens of investigators, prosecutors, and officials of the government and presidential administration.

Individually and as a group they continue to lie and state that the conflict, initially with NTV, and now with TV-6 is no more than, in Vladimir Putin's words, an "argument between economic entities".

Looking ahead

The argument will continue.

From Tuesday, TV-6 news bulletins will be broadcast in audio on the airwaves of our partners and friends at the Moscow Echo radio station.

On Thursday, we hope the new 000 TV-6, founded by the station's journalists, will be registered.

Then on 27 March we will compete for the licence to broadcast on our channel.

The licences, however, are awarded by the same vengeful and faceless state.

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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