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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 June, 2003, 22:03 GMT 23:03 UK
Russia pulls plug on critical TV
Yevgeny Kiselyov
Kiselyov said his priority was to help staff find new jobs
The Russian Government has taken the country's only nationwide independent television channel off the air, citing "viewers' interests".

Some staff at TVS were on their way to work on Sunday only to learn that their station had been replaced by a sports channel.

The press ministry said it had taken the decision because of the channel's much-publicised internal financial disputes but independent journalists said the move amounted to a state coup in the media.

"What we have now is a complete state monopoly of country-wide channels," said Alexei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of the outspoken Ekho Moskvy radio station.

It's like when all candidates but one are excluded from an election campaign
Alexei Venediktov
editor-in-chief of the outspoken Ekho Moskvy radio

The editor-in-chief at TVS, veteran broadcaster Yevgeni Kiselyov, noted ironically that the channel had been cut off at 0400 on 22 June - the exact hour and date when Hitler launched his surprise attack on the Soviet Union in 1941.

Staff at TVS admitted that the channel had been in difficulties but its chief satirist, Viktor Shenderovich, said the channel's opponents should have had "the good sense to wait for our natural passing".

Mr Shenderovich, for years a household name in Russia for his TV programmes, Itogo (In sum) and Free Cheese ( from the Russian proverb: Free cheese only comes in a mouse-trap), said he could not see a future for himself in Russian television.

He, Mr Kiselyov and other journalists at TVS had migrated across three channels - NTV, TV6 and finally TVS - in recent years, watching their scope for editorial independence being gradually reduced.

'Viewers' interests'

The press ministry said TVS had failed to meet the demands of quality broadcasting and had "sunk into a financial, staffing and management crisis".

STATION TO STATION
2001: NTV taken over by Gazprom, Kiselyov and colleagues leave for TV6
2002: TV6 taken off air, Kiselyov and co. found TVS
2003: TVS taken off air

"In this situation, a decision had to be taken to defend viewers' interests and take account of legal issues," it said in a statement.

The channel had been dogged by infighting among its shareholders. Journalists said they had not received salaries for three months, telephone bills were left unpaid and the station's drivers were on strike.

It was cut off from Moscow's main cable network last week in a dispute over debts.

Third time unlucky

TVS was created a year ago out of the remains of TV6, which had been shut down in a dispute with one of its shareholders, a government-linked pension fund.

TV6 had itself attracted some of the best journalists working on NTV, a channel which made a name for itself in the 1990s for its hard-hitting reports on Chechnya and its slick presentation style.

Mr Kiselyov and others left NTV when the channel was effectively bought out by the powerful state gas monopoly Gazprom.

Commentators say the news reporting on TVS was tamer than that of its predecessors but Mr Kiselyov retained the right to regularly criticise President Vladimir Putin.

With TVS off the air, Ekho Moskvy's Mr Venediktov said it was "like when all candidates but one are excluded from an election campaign".


SEE ALSO:
Viewpoint: Russian deja-vu
22 Jan 02  |  Europe
End of run for Kremlin critic
01 Mar 03  |  Europe
Country profile: Russia
28 Dec 02  |  Country profiles


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