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Russia: U.S. Criticizes Efforts To Close TV-6

Washington, 29 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The White House in Washington has criticized efforts to close Russia's independent TV-6 television station. A spokesman for President George W. Bush, Sean McCormack, yesterday called the legal action "a step backward and out of keeping with a modern and democratic society."

The appeals panel of the Moscow Arbitration Court on 26 November upheld an earlier decision to liquidate the station because of complaints by a minority shareholder that it consistently failed to make a profit.

Station officials say the broadcast outlet was in fact profitable and accused the court of trying to eliminate a critical media outlet at the Kremlin's bidding.

The minority shareholder who filed the original complaint, LUKoil-Garant, a subsidiary of LUKoil, owns a 15 percent share of the Moscow Independent Broadcasting Corporation (MNVK), which owns TV-6. LUKoil- Garant claims its rights as a minority shareholder were violated when MNVK contracted a 255-million ruble ($7.5 million) debt in January 2001 and income generated by advertising substantially decreased over the past few months.

TV-6 officials deny the charges and claim the station is making money. Media magnate Boris Berezovsky owns the remaining 75 percent in the network through three shareholders, which include the financial industrial group LogoVAZ (26.5 percent), the private Delfin Company (25.25 percent), and 11 percent by Berezovsky himself. Lawyers for TV-6 said they will appeal the decision, ITAR-TASS reported.

Berezovsky told "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 November that "it is a political decision that will have consequences for the entire country, and I am convinced that the decision was adopted personally by President Vladimir Putin." The Russian state owns more than 14 percent of LUKoil. In an interview broadcast on NTV on 26 November, LUKoil-Garant General Director Mikhail Berezhnoi denied that the decision was politically motivated.

Last year, when Gazprom-Media took control of NTV, many NTV journalists, including anchorman and General-Director Yevgenii Kiselev, joined TV-6. Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov also protested the court decision to liquidate MNVK. "It is neither in the interest of society nor in the interest of the state to close down TV-6," Interfax quoted him as saying. Nemtsov added that a decision to close down TV-6 using a court ruling will put an end to the last private television channel in Russia.