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Russian Company Seeks Shuttered Station's Broadcasting Rights - 2002-01-13


The Russian company that has persuaded a Moscow court to shut down the last independent television channel in the country says it wants to buy the station's broadcasting rights. The subsidiary of Russia's giant Lukoil company says it will try to acquire the broadcasting license of TV-6 to "create a new image" for the embattled channel.

Lukoil-Garant won a key court victory on Friday after it sued to liquidate TV-6 for alleged financial problems. The company owns just 15 percent of the shares in the channel. But using a disputed law, it was able to get the court to order that TV-6 be shut down. In a carefully worded statement, Lukoil-Garant complained its shareholders had not received any dividends in three years because TV-6 was losing money.

It is now reaching out to the TV-6 staff, saying a restructured channel would "take into account the principles of freedom of information." Most of the journalists at TV-6 are among the most vocal critics of the Russian government, and they say the lawsuit has nothing to do with finances, but everything to do with politics.

On Saturday the TV-6 general director said that if the station is closed, he and his staff would find some other way to continue working. Lawyers for TV-6 say a shareholders' meeting will be held Monday to discuss the situation. They may also take the case to Russia's Constitutional Court.

The case comes less than a year after another independent channel, known as NTV, was taken over by the giant natural gas company Gazprom in what critics said was another Kremlin attempt to control the media. Then too, Gazprom succeeded in taking over NTV for alleged financial problems. The gas firm also said it wanted to "work with" the journalists to restructure the channel. But most of the NTV staff moved en masse to TV-6 to continue broadcasting their hard-hitting programs.

Both NTV and TV-6 were controlled by powerful business tycoons who fell out of favor with the Kremlin and left Russia to live in exile. The two cases have brought criticism from the international community over the issue of press freedom in Russia.

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