Moscow, 22 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's sole independent television network is off the air following an order from Media Minister Mikhail Lesin. Russian authorities have thus pulled the plug on one of the few broadcasters that ventured to criticize Russian military activities in Chechnya and draw attention to high-level corruption in the Kremlin.
TV-6 ceased broadcasting at midnight Moscow time, after Minister Lesin signed the order, suspending the network's license. The station had been expecting a 10-day grace period following the delivery of a court order to cut the station was delivered to the Media Ministry yesterday.
TV-6 has been facing liquidation after minority shareholders from partly state-owned LUKoil brought a bankruptcy case against the station, accusing it of failing to earn a profit.
Lesin said he was acting on orders from court bailiffs, who were enforcing a Moscow court ruling from early January ordering the shutdown of TV-6.
Lesin had offered TV-6 journalists a chance to continue broadcasting at least temporarily if they cut ties with TV-6 majority stakeholder Boris Berezovsky, who controls 75 percent of shares in the station.
The station's management last week accepted the offer, then yesterday rejected it, saying it violated Russian law.
Power was cut at the studio and the station's telephones and Internet link were interrupted, Reuters quoted General Director Yevgenii Kiselyov saying. "It looks like some kind of a television coup," he told Ekho Moskvy radio. "The authorities today showed that their single goal is to gag us." He added that the satellite feed to provincial stations, which are separate companies with their own broadcast licenses, were also cut.
In St. Petersburg, TV-6's local partner broadcast "Swan Lake," the ballet that appeared on television when Soviet hard-liners launched a coup attempt in 1991, Reuters reported.
TV-6 gained prominence, and took on the mantle of the country's sole independent broadcaster, after NTV was taken over in 2001 by the Kremlin-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom in a boardroom coup.