THE FATE OF THE TV-6 TELEVISION COMPANY: A BATTLE FOR FREE SPEECH AGAINST A BACKGROUND OF SPORTS NEWS

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The media are still highly interested in the TV-6 television company story, despite numerous news items on other topics, such as: economic issues, the continuing fall of oil prices, the unfavorable situation in Chehcnya, another failure to establish friendly relations with the West, and so on. Such sustained interest is a sign that Russian society is interpreting this event as indicative. Undoubtedly, both Russian and western liberals are impressed with the persistence of persuading TV-6.

The Obshchaya Gazeta paper says: “A wave of fear is sweeping across our society.” The latest actions of the authorities are the major reason for this; however, the most important of them is the anonymity of persuaders. According to the paper, when Railroads Minister Nikolai Aksenenko was dismissed it was apparent that he was unaware of the reason why he was out of favor. No one doubted that the real reason for dismissal of the almighty Railroads Ministry head was not financial abuse. There were lots of questions, like “who initiated the dismissal – Putin or Stepashin, who still remembers his old offences?” or “will Aksenenko be dismissed only, or he will be also arrested?” The only thing clear was that “if Aksenenko was out of favor, despite the protection of the prime minister, anyone may get out of favor”.

According to the paper, the situation with TV-6 channel can be estimated similarly: “If they decided to annihilate the company, no one and nothing can prevent it, neither advocates, nor foreign protectors, or Kiselev’s appeal to ‘the national interests”. Moreover, the Federal Security Service is also against the journalists of the company: few people believe that Pasko and Danilov have been sentenced for transferring some secret materials to “foreign residents”, but now all scientists and journalists try to be very cautious. At the same time, none of them understands what they should be afraid of, “Apparently, if necessary, the authorities will find the reason to sentence for.”

The paper asks, “Where is this fear from?” Under Boris Yeltsin officials were also dismissed, large businessmen were arrested, but this never arose any mystical thrill.

According to Obshchaya Gazeta, the difference is that in Yeltsin’s time both the authorities and society believed that the authorities needed public support – that the government was dependent on the citizenry. Now the authorities realize that there are no political alternatives, and that they are quite self-sufficient. No wonder the head of state does not have to personally persuade anyone: it is enough to demonstrate dislike of someone, and the necessary effect can be achieved effortlessly.

From the standpoint of the Yezhendelny Zhurnal weekly, LUKoil’s attack ib the TV-6 company – that started last spring, after Yevgeny Kiselev took the helm of TV-6 – was an independent action. Moreover, the aggressive actions of oil companies against TV-6 were rather unexpected for the Kremlin.

There may be several motives for this. According to some sources, the oil barons decided to prove to President Putin that they are able to solve a problem that “Kremlin political consultants” had been unable to deal with: to eliminate the last television network that is independent from the Kremlin. Other sources say the real reason for the aggression is Vagit Alekperov’s old grudge against Boris Berezovsky.

Yezhenedlny Zhurnal notes that it is more important that it was LUKoil’s initiative, while the presidential team was idly watching the process.

The presidential administration only realized on the eve of Putin’s European tour that the Supreme Tribunal would shut down the TV-6 company, which was extremely inconvenient for the Kremlin.

Then, the presidential administration did its best to improve the situation, including appearance of Boris Yeltsin on TV, saying that it was important to preserve TV-6. However, Yezhenedelny Zhurnal notes, LUKoil did not even notice all that fuss. It turned out that the presidential team was unable to pull the intriguers back.

The weekly is convinced that there was no single plan for the action, “It was a usual fight between various groupings, each of them purposed their own aim.” However, this time oil producers joined “Old Muscovites” and “St. Petersburg newcomers”.

In any case, according to the journal, the outcome of the fight for the TV-6 company should be a serious reason for reflecting for President Putin, “So far it may be assumed that the oil capital is playing in the president’s interests, though sometimes these interests are misinterpreted.” However, it is highly likely that the tycoons’ interests stop coinciding with the interests of the authorities – then, the latter are likely to have big problems.

In these terms, the journal writes, the result of liquidation of the TV-6 company will end in “closing a new generation of magnates to the power instead of distancing from them.”

From the standpoint of the Vremya Novostei newspaper, liquidation of the TV-6 company marked the end of the so-called “tycoons’ television”.

Investments in private television that Russian entrepreneurs made in early 1990s turned to be a real fortune, “private television companies turned ordinary, though rather well-to-do businessmen into real tycoons, who swayed the destinies of the country.”

However, in the long run, this was what killed both tycoons and private television: as soon as the authorities estimated the possibilities of television in the new situation, the fate of private channels was decided. Resolving the issue of their judicial owner became an issue of financial and legal techniques. “Once the authorities made certain how efficient the television stick may be, they are not going to lend to anyone else – perhaps, for temporary use sometimes.”

Head of the Effective Politics Foundation and the main Kremlin political scientist Gleb Pavlovsky said answering a question of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta paper on the possibility of ending the conflict around TV-6 company, “I can hardly imagine the final of the situation with TV-6, as today it is an uncontrollable process. Now the whole story is absolutely political.”

According to Pavlovsky, if the authorities manage to control the situation there is hope that the prior team will return to the channel. On the other hand, there is danger that the conflict has gone too far.

Director of the Effective Politics Foundation stated, “It is a graphic example of business hooliganism at the expense of the presidential rating.” At the same time, Pavlovsky added that he meant “only Asian oriented business that is uninterested in Russia’s European orientation and is inclined to damage it.”

Pavlovsky is convinced that Boris Nemtsov’s idea on limiting the package of shares for an investor by 25% has no future. He said, “we have just seen that LUKoil that used to have much less than 25% of TV-6 shares started a real political pogrom, as well as a pogrom of the presidential power.” No wonder such conflicts as the TV-6 story are hardly likely to be limited by formal limitation of percentage.

The majority of experts the Nezavisimaya Gazeta paper addressed think that so far Kiselev’s team has little chance to return to the channel. As Andrei Fedorov, the head of the Political Research and Consulting Foundation noted, this team is unlikely to be allowed in the air in its present membership, “especially, taking into account that they do not intend to change their viewpoints.” The journalists will be able to return to the TV-6 channel only under one condition, if they “morally surrender”.

Valery Fedorov, the head of the Political Situation Center agrees with Andrei Fedorov. According to the former, Kiselev’s team has only 50% chance to return to the channel – the journalists will have to “identify their preferences: either they want to work or they want to be friends with Boris Berezovsky.”

Famous political scientist Igor Bunin, an expert of the Political Consulting Center notes high professionalism and stable popularity rating of Kiselev’s team, this means that “TV establishment is on their side”. However, to have the right to broadcast on the TV-6 channel, Kiselev will have to definitely distance from Berezovsky and Gusinsky – otherwise, the resistance of the authorities will be stronger than the opinion of the television elite.

This set of opinions published by Nezavisimaya Gazeta is very interesting: on the one hand, judging by Gleb Pavlovsky’s statements, the authorities are absolutely unaware of the end of TV-6: it is the “infuriated” LUKoil that is to blame. On the other hand, in order to return to TV-6 the journalists will have to reject all contacts with Boris Berezovsky, otherwise the authorities will resist to their return.

According to the Izvestia newspaper, the position of the TV-6 journalists in relation to Boris Berezovsky is quite clear: “they feel naturally obliged to the tycoon-outsider”. He gave them jobs after they left the NTV television network, “timely paid their salaries and even promised to give the shares of the channel as a present to the collective of the channel.”

At the same time, Izvestia noted that the latter is one of Berezovsky’s favorite tricks, “First the tycoon never kept the same promise to the ORT television network, now he is doing the same with TV-6.”

Nonetheless, Izvestia notes that today Berezovsky has something to be proud of: he is reputed for being the fighter for human rights of the Russians – freedom of speech, property rights, that is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and, consequently, for the triumph of the law.

According to Izvestia, “Life is strange: such a person as Boris Berezovsky claims to be a banner of liberalism, and dissidents, democratic politicians, and freedom-loving journalists look at him with great hope.”

Overall, the paper notes, January 22 was a bad day for Russia: “First the anniversary of Lenin’s death, then the television channel is taken off the air.” However, this time the scandal over TV-6 pushed the Lenin anniversary into the background. While from the standpoint of Izvestia, Berezovsky has a lot in common with Vladimir Lenin, “Both have a thinker’s forehead, both have charisma. Both are fanatically convinced that they’re right. They both hope to defeat their government in an imperialist war. They use the same methods: the media plus the party.” Izvestia states that psychologically, Berezovsky fits the model of Lenin very well.

According to the Argumenty I Fakty weekly, the general belief that the Liberal Russia party (established by the fugitive tycoon from “Union of Right Forces dissidents”) has no political prospects may be a mistake. According to the most modest assessment, the weekly explains, Berezovsky’s capital that he received from selling Sibneft, ORT, and Aeroflot are no less than $1 billion. According to Argumenty I Fakty’s sources, this money is on deposit accounts and it makes up to $50 million a year as interest only. The paper states, “even a half of this sum would be enough for changing the political landscape of the country.”

Further on the paper surmises who of the political old-timers could agree to ally with rich but “mixed-breed” Liberal Russia. According to Argumenty I Fakty, only the Yabloko movement is likely to make such a step. The party rating is stable, the usual 6%, while the funding leaves much to be desired. That is why the paper thinks it is not ruled out that the “Yabloko leader may dare to secretly ally with the escaped tycoon – today Yavlinsky needs money more than ever.”

However, at present Berezovsky must have forgotten of party construction: the Russian authorities have prepared another surprise for him.

As Izvestia noted, the statement of Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev of documental proved facts of Berezovsky’s funding Chechen guerrillas made Berezovsky a “Russian bin Laden”.

At the same time, it is not easy to prove the accusations against the escaped tycoon. As the Vedomosti paper explained, this would demand evidence of “direct connection between the money transferred and further terrorist acts – in particular, in form of avowals of terrorist acts organizers.” Obviously, there is little hope that still uncaught “organizers of terrorist acts” would frankly confess of their crimes. According to confidential sources, the Russian security services have even less hope to extradite Berezovsky. On the other hand, it is quite possible that the real objective of the action has already been achieved. As is known, the rebel tycoon many times promised in the pres to explode a new informational bomb – to prove with documents connection of the Federal Security Service with 1999 explosions in Moscow and Volgodonsk. Now, judging by everything, Berezovsky will be able to make his accusations as a defendant of funding Chechen guerrillas.

According to Vedomosti’s sources close to the Federal Security Service, accusing Berezovsky is a “purely political step”, as the case is hardly likely to be brought to the court. It is clear that on the one hand, the authorities will not leave the disfavored magnate alone, but on the other hand, having admitted Kiselev’s team to TV-6 and then having made the best to close the company – according to Vedomosti, “defense of the company both in the court and out of the court will be very weak,” – Berezovsky acquired in the West a good status of “dissident and sufferer for freedom of speech”. Just like Gusinsky.

Vedomosti forecast that as long as the extradition case is in process, Berezovsky will have to “make up news as he is being persecuted in his Motherland for his ideas.” In these terms, the TV-6 company is a used material already, the paper notes. At the same time, there are still other media, first of all, Kommersant and Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The rumor has it is Moscow that the Kommersant magazine is to be closed soon, although there are no financial claims to the paper.

Nonetheless, Vedomosti is convinced that the authorities should leave Berezovsky alone – he will never be extradited.

Meanwhile, judging by everything the Novye Izvestia newspaper – another Berezovsky’s paper – does not intend to leave the crown of thorns of the oppositional periodical to the Kommersant magazine.

Commenting on the results of the TV-6 scandal, the paper disagrees with analysts who are afraid of establishment of authoritarian regime in Russia. On the one hand, the paper admits that there is a possibility of “Stalin’s obscurantism”. But on the other hand, Novye Izvestia stresses that liquidation of TV-6 company had side effects for the authorities, “Refined hypocrisy of the top officials of the country along with open servility of performers made an exotic cocktail, after which the majority of the Russian silent electorate got sick. “

Evidently, no one started an upheaval, but according to Novye Izvestia, the results are obvious: vague before “feeling of uncertainty and dissatisfaction” finally turned into a “sad certitude” that the incumbent authorities have not enough strength to resolve real Russian problems. That is why the authorities prefer to concentrate on administrative fuss, that is in the long run an awkward attempt of self-assertion.

The paper writes, “even such ‘epochal’ presidential initiatives as breaking of the Federation Council, establishment of federal districts and the power hierarchy cannot be considered as large and serious as they are far-stretched and give no real feedback”.

The paper adds that the Kremlin efforts are insufficient even for fighting against one “non-standard tycoon”: of course, the opponent is squeezed out of the country “at the expense of tremendous tension and losing the Kremlin’s face” but he is not defeated and is still “making noticeable strikes on the reputation of the Russian power.”

As Novye Izvestia acidly notes, it has taken the authorities half of Putin’s presidency and all the power of the state apparatus to achieve this modest result.

Meanwhile, the paper sums up, time works against the Russian president: “the purge of the television air and the whole informational field is likely to be continued, but every new round of the unprecedented fight between the nuclear power head Vladimir Putin and lonely Berezovsky will inevitably ricochet to the already unstable presidential popularity rating.”

Thus, the “inadequate behavior” of the Russian authorities in the TV-6 conflict “has underlined the public expectations: Putin will never become a large statesman,” conclude Novye Izvestia.

It is a surprise, but another periodical of the Kommersant publishers, the Vlasti monthly – acknowledges that Berezovsky’s role in the whole story is also rather ambiguous.

Vlast writes, when Berezovsky invited Kiselev’s team to his channel it became clear that sooner or later the TV-6 company will have problems: by that time the channel’s debts amounted to $12 million: $8 million of the debt the channel owed to the United Bank, that is fully controlled by Berezovsky. It is high time to remember that the formal ground for liquidating the TV-6 company upon LUKoil’s suit was the circumstance that the debts of the company have exceeded its assets over several past years.

Further on, Vlast recollects Berezovsky’s promises to give the shares of the company as a present to the team of the channel. Berezovsky mentioned this intention in his interview with the Kommersant paper. However, later he never returned to this topic: the magazine assumes that he realized that “the journalists may reject their major shareholder and the conflict will be resolved without him”.

Another fact that TV-6 journalists rejected the broadcast license offered by the Media Ministry is also very strange.

Vlast reminds that on January 14, 2002 Berezovsky stated in his interview with Gazeta that he does not object to journalists’ receiving the broadcast rights: “It is only necessary that the shareholder renounced this license in favor of journalists. Overall, this is Ok with me.”

The same day the Executive Director of the company Pavel Korchagin sent a letter to the Media Ministry where he announced rejection of the license and forming a new legal entity in order to participate in the compete for broadcasting on the 6th channel.

However, on January 15 Berezovsky stated in his interview with Kommersant that “this decision is a sign of weakness”, which is hard to blame.

Nonetheless, he still condemned this weakness on January 20, in the Namedni program – Berezovsky announced Korchagin’s letter illegal.

As Vlast writes, it is hard to get rid of the impression that over all this time Berezovsky has played a complicated game of his own, the result of which was what had happened: “liquidation of TV-6 company”.

In short, as Moskovskie Novosti said, it is hard to clear the things up with the TV-6 story, “Perhaps it is not time for final assessment yet”.

Nonetheless, the weekly believes that the majority of observers have a feeling of unfairness in relation to the journalists and – which is of grater importance – to spectators. “People have a feeling of prevailing political and people’s offences over national interests, the feeling of exact following the law and purposed neglecting its spirit.”

According to Moskovskie Novosti, in these terms it is hardly likely that the contest for the frequency will restore the fairness: “There are too many signs that the unfairness is likely to continue.”

From the standpoint of Moskovskie Novosti, neither the power nor the tycoons are able to prevent further unfairness – only the journalists who have voluntarily refused to participate in the contest. “The matter is question is not a noble gesture towards colleagues and spectators, but a possibility to save the reputation of the whole television and journalism community.”

Moreover, Moskovskie Novosti warns, this step “must not be considered to be a solidarity action with TV-6 owner Boris Berezovsky, especially with his political statements. It must be an action of solidarity with TV-6 journalists.”

According to Moskovskie Novosti, today there is a serious threat of journalism as such being conclusively discredited; and the only possibility of averting this is in hands of television journalists. The article is titled “Do not buy a stolen company.”

Undoubtedly, the turmoil around the television channel will continue, both in Russia and at the international level.

Recently, the New York Times published its verdict: “The elimination of TV-6 should demonstrate to all reasonable journalists: criticism of the Kremlin is bad for business, but it is more harmful for journalism.”

Then the influential US paper gave some advice to the US government: “Having made friends with President Putin, President Bush should not be embarrassed to discuss freedom of speech issues with the Russian leader. He definitely should mention this during his trip in Moscow in spring.”

Undoubtedly, the US president will follow the advice of his media….

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