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Sunday, 17 December, 2000, 12:54 GMT
Russian media war hots up
Vladimir Gusinsky being arrested
Russian media boss Gusinsky - in trouble again
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has hit out at what he says are attempts to close down the independent media in Russia.

Mr Gorbachev was commenting on a winding-up petition by the Russian tax authorities, the latest move in a running confrontation between the Russian Government and the Media-Most group.

Gorbachev at press conference
Gorbachev brought in free media in Russia
Media-Most includes the influential NTV television channel. Mr Gorbachev was speaking as head of a media watchdog set up by NTV.

He said the insolvency suit by a local tax inspectorate against NTV and two other Media-Most outlets was purely politically motivated.

"The attempt by the authorities to use tax agencies as an instrument of pressure on mass media may deal a blow not only to freedom of speech and the press but also to the freedom of entrepreneurship in Russia," Mr Gorbachev said.

"The main achievements of democratic reform over the last 15 years are now under threat."

He said the tax move was part of a "well thought-through plan to eliminate NTV - not just NTV, but also other independent media as channels for the expression of dissenting views and independent opinions in society."

Tax policeman
Tax police used as "instrument of pressure", says Gorbachev
"And that is a blow to freedom of speech, human rights and the constitutional right of citizens to have access to information."

But at the same time the head of Media-Most, embattled entrepreneur Vladimir Gusinsky, has been arrested in Spain at the request of the Russian authorities.

They are seeking his extradition on charges of fraud.

Mr Gorbachev said both this and the insolvency charge were false.

Media-Most says it has paid all its taxes on time and its companies are not even close to insolvency.

And in an appeal to the Spanish authorities, Mr Gorbachev asked them to "pay close attention to the evident political aspects of the Gusinsky affair in dealing with the question of his future".

He said he might be appealing directly to the Spanish king over the arrest.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:

12 Dec 00 | Europe
Russian media baron held in Spain
17 Dec 00 | AudioVideo
Gorbachev steps into NTV row
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