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Media Rights Groups Condemn Moscow's Move to Eliminate TV-6 - 2002-01-12

Journalists and some politicians in Russia have criticized a court order to liquidate the only television channel still free of Kremlin control. The case of TV-6 has also raised concerns beyond Russia.

Two media organizations in Russia have sprung to the defense of TV-6, which may soon be closed after a key ruling by a Moscow appeals court on Friday.

Russia's Journalist Union and Association of TV and Radio Broadcasters issued statements condemning the ruling, saying it will have far-reaching consequences for Russia.

TV-6 lawyers say they will probably take the case to Russia's Constitutional Court because the law on which it was based is no longer in effect.

That law allowed minority shareholders the power to close down companies that are in financial trouble.

The order to liquidate TV-6 came as part of a lawsuit brought last year by a subsidiary of the Lukoil company, which holds just 15 percent of the shares in the channel. Lukoil claimed the channel was losing money.

But the channel's defenders say this is far from true and that the ruling was political because the station was sometimes critical of government policies.

On Friday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States feels freedom of the press and the rule of law in Russia are best served by keeping TV-6 on the air. And the Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders said the ruling takes Russia back to what it described as "its sad totalitarian past." Leading Russian politicians from across the political spectrum also blasted the ruling.

A parliament deputy with the reformist Yabloko party said the decision "sets Russia back 20 years to restore a state monopoly of the media."

Ultra-nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky denounced what he called the "venality" of Russian courts in bending to political pressure.

The ruling is also seen as a way to attack business tycoon Boris Berezovsky, a one-time Kremlin insider who owns most of the shares in TV-6 and now lives outside of Russia.

The court decision came less than a year after another independent television channel, known as NTV, was taken over by the state-dominated gas company Gazprom.

When that occurred, most of the NTV journalists moved to TV-6 to continue producing some of the most popular programs on Russian television.

Ratings for TV-6 have steadily increased in recent months amid the increasingly bland programming on state-controlled channels.

TV-6's director Yevgeny Kiselyov voiced defiance after the ruling, saying that if it took effect he and his colleagues would find some other way of continuing to work.