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Last Updated: Monday, 23 June, 2003, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
TV closure sparks 'Soviet' jibe
TVS news director Yevgeny Kiselyov
News director Kiselyov alleges political motivation
The closure of Russia's last independent national television station has sparked media accusations of a return to the Soviet era.

The debt-ridden TVS was pulled off the air on Sunday, to be replaced with a sports channel.

Senior staff and other media observers alleged that the decision was taken for political as well as financial reasons.

TVS was set up after other stations critical of the Russian Government had already been closed down or taken over.

What we have now is a complete state monopoly of country-wide channels
Alexei Venediktov
Ekho Moskvy radio station
It was seen as less critical than the earlier stations, but its sudden disappearance from screens fuelled fresh claims of Kremlin interference.

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

"It's like when all candidates are excluded from the election campaign, except for only one," he told Russia's Interfax news agency.

Farewell. We have been taken off the air
Temporary on-screen message
Liberal member of parliament Boris Nadezhdin, of the Union of Right Forces, said TVS had been "the last TV channel that ventured to criticise Russian leaders."

Newspapers also attacked the decision.

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta labelled Russia "The one-channel country", saying the era of Russian private television was at an end.

Izvestia said national television would now consist either of "entertainment channels or state channels", as in the Soviet era.

A statement from Russia's press ministry said a "financial, personnel and management crisis" lay behind the decision, which had been taken to "protect the rights of viewers".

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
TVS' financial problems were well-known. The channel had been dogged by infighting among its shareholders. Some members of staff had not been paid for three months, telephone bills were left unpaid and the station's drivers were on strike.

Earlier this month, Moscow's main cable company dropped it, adding to its woes by removing more of its viewers.

However, the sudden closure led to accusations of political interference.

"The channel might have closed for the most trivial, financial reason, but by taking this step, they have added a political dimension to their decision," Yevgeny Kiselyov, TVS news director, was quoted as saying.

Journalists' migration

Satirist Viktor Shenderovich agreed.

"Our opponents did not have the good sense to wait for our natural passing," he said. "The channel would have ceased to exist anyway in two or three days because without money, you clearly can do nothing."

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.

Some members of staff learned the station had been closed while listening to the radio on their way to work.

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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