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Russia's Independent TV Station Loses Shutdown Appeal


A Russian court Friday moved to shut down the country's last national independent television station. The move is being criticized as a blow to free speech in the country.

Russia's TV6 lost its battle to stay on the air in court on Friday. The Moscow Arbitration Court ruled that the television station should be closed for failing to comply with financial regulations.

The court ruling stems from a bankruptcy suit filed against the station last May by one of its minority shareholders. An initial court ruling last November ordered the station to be shut down, but that ruling was appealed.

TV6 is the only national television station outside of government control.

The station's supporters say Friday's decision had nothing to do with financial issues. They say the move to close the station is actually an attempt by the Kremlin to crack down on free speech in Russia.

The station's owner, businessman Boris Berezovsky, used to be a strong supporter of President Vladimir Putin and openly helped Mr. Putin's election campaign. However, Mr. Berezovsky later fell from favor, lost influence and left the country. He said Friday's decision to close TV6 came as no surprise. Mr. Berezovsky said the real reason for his television station being shut down is not financial problems but political pressure.

Friday's decision is part of a continuing struggle in Russia by journalists who say the government is trying to silence them. Many of the journalists at TV6 used to work at NTV, a once independent nationwide television station. But they left after that station was effectively taken over by one of its major shareholders - the state controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom. Gazprom said the shake-up was necessary because the station was in deep financial difficulties.

The Kremlin has rejected accusations it is trying to stifle press freedom, saying the court decisions are the result of bad business management in NTV and TV6.

NTV sometimes ran critical reports of the Russian government and President Putin and journalists at the station said the Gazprom takeover was a direct result of some of that reporting.

TV6 owner Mr. Berezovsky said he and the TV6 journalists will not give up. Mr. Berezovsky said he is sure there is a chance to save the company and that he will keep fighting.

Representatives from TV6 said they would appeal Friday's decision to the Russian Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights.