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Russia: TV-6 Journalists Return To Airwaves On TVS Television

Former TV-6 journalists returned to the airwaves over the weekend on TVS television, after their new company won a government tender for a new broadcast license. Speaking with reporters yesterday, TVS Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev said that the channel was able to keep roughly the same team of journalists it had on TV-6. Moreover, Kiselev said that the station's influential partners -- like the head of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and industrial lobbyist Arkadii Volskii -- will not influence the channel editorial policy.

Moscow, 5 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A team of journalists from what was once Boris Berezovsky's TV-6 channel returned to the air on 1 June on the TVS network, after their new company won a government bid for a new broadcast license.

Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev -- who gained fame as host of the respected "Itogi" news program on Russia's NTV before moving himself and most of his journalists to TV-6 -- told reporters yesterday that his team has been preparing for the event since April. Kiselev says it is the first time since TV-6 was closed down by a controversial court order in January that his journalistic team feels optimistic about their prospects: "We are on the air. Now that we have returned to the air, we feel much better, we are in a good mood and so on."

Kiselev says he is pleased that the TVS channel was able to maintain nearly the same team of journalists he has worked with in the past. NTV, which Kiselev left after a takeover by the state-controlled Gazprom, was widely regarded as providing Russia's most professional standard of news.

Moreover, Kiselev says that TVS can count on receiving roughly the same network of regional channels: "I want to point out that we were able to keep most of our network -- I mean the network that earlier belonged to TV-6. In spite of malicious forecasts -- saying that the network would fall apart and our partners would leave us -- our partners remained with us. They patiently and cleverly waited for us during these four difficult months. I think everything is going to be fine with our network."

TVS spokeswoman Tatyana Blinova told "The Moscow Times" English-language daily that TVS is now broadcasting to 31 Russian cities and that the channel hopes to reach a potential audience of 80 million viewers by the end of this summer.

General Director Aleksander Levin says that so far there are no commercials on TVS, since they want to show advertisers what areas of broadcasting they capable of covering: "If you are asking yourself why we still don't have commercials, this is because we want to give advertisers an idea of what kind of programming our channel will provide. I believe that in two weeks' time the issue will be sorted out."

In addition to that, Levin says that TVS will sell advertising time through its own advertising agency, which is being organized. For now, the channel broadcasting, Levin says, is being financed through a loan from the state-controlled Vneshekonombank bank.

According to Levin the news program will be the most expensive one. Other programs, Levin says are not so expensive. For example, he says, the program "Behind the Mirror" -- the Russian version of the famous "Big Brother" reality-TV program -- will cost about $1 million.

The TV-6 team's return on the new channel was made possible after Russia's Federal Broadcasting Commission unanimously awarded a license to the Media-Sotsium group, an alliance of journalists and political business heavyweights including the head of the Russian Chamber of Commerce Yevgenii Primakov and Arkadii Volskii, the head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Some media reports suggested that Kiselev's team had a distinct advantage in having Kremlin-approved backers like Primakov, a former prime minister. Some observers suggest that Primakov's presence may serve as guarantee that Kiselev will be forced to temper his traditionally outspoken brand of news reporting.

But Kiselev says that Primakov will not interfere with the channel's editorial policy: "In my view, there are too many prejudices among people and the press. One of these is that Primakov wants to suppress press freedom. Believe me, it isn't all true. Yevgenii Maksimovich [Primakov] is rather a complicated personality than a simple person. He is very sensitive to criticism in the press."

Asked whether the channel will assume the role of anti-Kremlin opposition broadcaster, Kiselev says simply that the key task for the new team is to create a good television station capable of offering people good information and entertainment programs: "We didn't oppose anyone, we did not want to oppose anyone, and we will not oppose anyone. We'll continue doing our work as journalists -- to give information, educate, and entertain. Someone may not like the way we entertain, educate, and in particular many people don't like the way we inform. But we believe that citizens have the right to know everything."

Kiselev says that the team will remain on air despite a ruling this week that the decision to force TV-6 off the air was illegal and violated the right of viewers to receive information. According to the court ruling, TV-6's parent company, Moscow Independent Broadcasting Company (MNVK) can resume programming within three months. This means that the Shestoi Kanal -- or sixth channel -- frequencies used by TVS might be taken back by TV-6.

Media Minister Mikhail Lesin this week told the Interfax news agency that the TVS license is considered valid unless the court issues a ruling to cancel it.

The closure in January of TV-6 was the second blow dealt Kiselev and his journalists in less than one year. Last April, they left the private NTV channel after it was taken over by state-dominated natural-gas monopoly Gazprom, in a move condemned by observers as an attack on press freedom in Russia. The journalists then found shelter in Boris Berezovsky's TV-6, but their respite was short-lived. After complaints from a minority shareholder -- oil giant LUKoil -- that TV-6 was insolvent, the station was closed. That gave the Kremlin de facto control of all major channels for the first time since Soviet era.