Russian channel hits static

MOSCOW — The fate of Russia’s only national broadcaster still controlled from outside the capital city seems uncertain after Channel 5 chief Oleg Rudnyev tendered his resignation Monday.

In a letter to Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomydrin, Rudnyev cited the main reason for his resignation as the planned relocation of control over the channel from St. Petersburg to Moscow.

Channel 5 — formerly known as the Leningrad channel — was always something of an anomaly in Soviet broadcasting circles. Originally, it could only be received with the help of a special aerial, and it formerly showed a degree of independence often lacking in central Moscow channels.

However, scandals surrounding former chief Bella Kurkova, accused of corruption in granting ad-time licenses two years ago and exonerated only by inquiries made public this spring, as well as failing financial resources — the channel remained state-run — have recently seen it lose prestige as well as audiences.

The final potential shakeup for the channel came with vague pronouncements this spring from Russian president Boris Yeltsin that Channel 5 would become a dedicated culture channel — an idea at first lauded by local notables in Russia’s second city, which has always prided itself on its cultural superiority over Moscow.

However, as part of such a transformation, Rudnyev claimed that control over the channel would be effectively transferred to Moscow, with many of the 2,500 local staff members losing their jobs, and administration absorbed into Channel 2 (RTR). Channel 5 would retain its independent broadcasting identity over only a 70-kilometer radius, barely enough to take in St. Petersburg itself.

Final decision on Channel 5’s future status, in the likely form of a presidential decree, is expected in the next week.

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