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Russia: EU Weighs In Over TV-6, Press Freedom

Brussels, 18 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission today expressed "concern" over the fate of independent broadcasting in Russia. Gunnar Wiegand, the European Commission's spokesman for external affairs, said in Brussels today that EU officials in Moscow had been in contact with the Russian authorities urging them to respect "plurality" in the media.

"The entire European Union is concerned that the last independent TV station will stop broadcasting," Wiegand said. "There is concern in the European Union that has been expressed by EU representatives in Moscow, asking that plurality in the media be safeguarded."

The Supreme Arbitration Court cleared the way for the closure of TV-6 on 11 January, eliminating the last independent nationwide television station in Russia.

The court accepted a demand of oil giant LUKoil -- which holds a minority of TV-6 shares through a subsidiary -- that the station be closed for failing to return a profit. LUKoil itself is partly owned by the Russian government.

Russian government officials have said that the move to close TV-6 is a purely "business matter."

Wiegand said the EU expects Russia to "reconcile" the workings of the market economy with "the objectives of liberal democracy."

On 16 January, some 50 journalists from TV-6 moved to establish a new company -- called OOO TV6 -- with a three-month broadcasting licence. The new company does not include Boris Berezovsky, whose holding owned 75 percent of TV6 shares.

Today, Minister for the Press and Radio Mikhail Lesin said that until a contest scheduled for April, broadcasting by OOO TV6 will not be interrupted.