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Closure of Russian TV Station Criticized by US

The United States Monday lamented the Russian government's closure of TVS, that country's last independent television channel. The State Department says the closure, for what Moscow says were financial reasons, does not serve the interest of a free press and had the appearance of being politically-motivated.

The closure of TVS, which had been struggling financially for many months, did not come as a great surprise to either the Russian media community or to U.S. officials.

But the move by the Russian Press Ministry, only months before critical parliamentary elections, has drawn an expression of concern from the State Department which says the development of independent media is essential to Russia's continued political and economic development.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said there have been indications for some time of political pressure against Russia's independent media.

He recalled U.S. expressions of concern over the takeover of independent broadcaster NTV by a state-controlled corporation in 2001 and the closure of TV6 last year, and said freedom of the press in Russia is "ill served" by the shutdown of TVS.

"The Press Ministry in Russia has cited financial and other administrative reasons for the closure. The fact that this TV station, TVS, aired some of Russia's most outspoken voices," said Mr. Reeker. "And those previous actions that I cited, the earlier closures of NTV and TV6, do lend this closure the appearance of possible political motivation."

A number of journalists from the broadcasters closed earlier had found jobs at TVS, which went off the air Sunday and was replaced by a new state-run sports channel.

Russian critics of the closure say it gives the government overwhelming influence over broadcast information in advance of parliamentary elections in December and presidential voting in March of next year.