MOSCOW — The specter of renewed political control over Russia’s media returned Thursday after a Moscow court ordered the liquidation of independent broadcaster TV-6.
The channel has become home to journalists who fled its main commercial rival NTV in April after government-backed utility Gazprom wrested control from Media-Most in a boardroom coup.
Move was widely seen as a way to silence the controversial station, which had spoken out against president Vladimir Putin, and TV-6 has followed a similar political line.
It is majority owned by exiled oligarch powerbroker Boris Berezovsky, who has continued to fund projects which he positions as in opposition to Putin’s Kremlin administration.
The judgment followed legal action from the Lukoil-Garant pension fund,which owns 15% of the station’s parent company. It fought changes at TV-6, claiming they violated its shareholder’s rights.
It brought the case under local legislation that gives authorities the right to liquidate a company if its balance sheet in relation to its founding capital is negative.
Denies political motive
“We are not following any political purposes, simply standing up for our rights as shareholders which have been infringed many times,” Lukoil-Garant head Mikhail Berezny said. The channel tried to dilute Lukoil-Garant’s minority holding by issuing extra shares, he noted.
In a 7 p.m. broadcast Thursday, A TV-6 newscaster read a statement from the station calling the judgment political and pointing out that revenues at the channel had risen by more than 50% in six months.
The station has recently unveiled new autumn skeds including many familiar NTV programs that had been axed by the new management. TV-6 continued to emphasize the quality of its news programming, another former NTV strength.
TV-6 has strong ratings in cities, and in Moscow its share was 15.5% against NTV’s 15.4% for Sept. 10-16, according to Gallup Media Nationwide.
The change of management at NTV in April followed a long legal and political battle between Gazprom and Media-Most topper Vladimir Gusinsky, a one-time rival of Berezovsky. Gusinsky was imprisoned in Spain while the Russian government attempted to extradite him, but the charges were ultimately dismissed.