IFJ Condemns Closure of Last Independent TV Station in Russia

THE International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalist group, expressed concern today over the decision to wind up the last remaining independent television station TV6. This raises serious questions about media pluralism in Russia, says the IFJ.

"Russia's leaders must make clear their commitment to media freedom by creating the conditions for independent television in the country," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ. "We strongly support the action by station staff who are protesting against this closure."

The complex events leading to the station's closure arise from a government clash with TV6 owner Boris Berezovsky, a critic of the authorities who is in exile to avoid fraud charges which he says are politically motivated. TV6 has been strongly critical of President Putin and his handling of the war in Chechnya.

The closure of TV6 followed the liquidation of its parent company Moscow Independent Broadcasting Company (MNVK). Originally, the Moscow Arbitration Court ruled to close MNVK on the basis of an obscure Russian law that prohibits companies from running a deficit for more than two years. TV6 appealed, and though a Moscow appellate court upheld the liquidation in November, another appeal from TV6 led to a ruling in the station's favor on December 29. However, as of January 1, 2002, the Russian parliament repealed a law that allowed shareholders to liquidate their own companies, thus eliminating the legal basis for proceedings against TV6.

Nevertheless, the country's Highest Arbitration Court disputed this decision and the Presidium of the court upheld the television company's liquidation. "We believe that behind the complex shareholder wrangling is a political confrontation in which independent journalism has emerged a clear loser," said Aidan White, "the closure of TV6 follows an original shareholder suit by LUKoil-Garant and should be fully investigated."

The IFJ is discussing with the Russian Union of Journalists the next steps to take in this continuing dispute. "We cannot let this situation continue", said the IFJ. "We have already seen the controversial take-over of NTV last year and now the action against TV6 finally closes the door on national independent television. This crisis needs to be addressed by the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights," said the IFJ.