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Russian 'Media-Sociom' To Air on Former TV6 Frequency - 2002-03-27

In Russia, a group of independent journalists and a politician with Kremlin connections have won the right to broadcast on one of the country's nation-wide television frequencies. The decision is the latest development in the battle over freedom of the press in Russia.

A federal commission decided unanimously to award the broadcast license of TV6 to Media-Socium. The organization is composed of a group of journalists who teamed with former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov in a bid for the channel.

TV6 was pulled off the air in January after a minority shareholder asked a court to close the station, saying it was losing money. But many in Russia said it was simply an attempt by the Kremlin to silence the country's last remaining nation-wide independent television station.

Thirteen groups bid for the TV6 frequency including a group put together by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. But the Media-Socium bid, put together by journalists who used to work at TV6 and by former Prime Minister Primakov, was widely viewed as having the inside track to winning the auction.

The group of journalists was headed by Yevgeny Kiselyov, the former managing director of TV6 and one of Russia's most well-known journalists.

The pairing was viewed has having the support of the Kremlin because it would combine Mr. Kiselyov's independent journalists with the strong hand and supervision of Mr. Primakov.

Each group presented its case to a nine-member commission from Russia's Media Ministry.

The announcement brings to an end months of speculation about the future of Russia's last independent nationwide television station.

The closure of TV6 was yet another blow for Mr. Kiselyov and his team of journalists. They used to work for NTV, which was perceived as independent and critical of the government.

But the journalists left NTV a year ago when the station was taken over by Gazprom, the state-controlled gas company. The journalists were later taken in by TV6 until it too was closed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said that the closures of TV6 and NTV were not a result of pressure from the Kremlin. Mr. Putin said they were simply poorly run businesses.