MOSCOW — Ex-staffers at Russia’s TV-6, the country’s last politically independent channel, which went dark in January, won their bid Wednesday for a broadcasting license in a tense and drawn-out auction.
But it is uncertain whether the new consortium, fronted by former TV-6 director general Yevgeny Kiselyev, will allow the reborn channel the freedom of speech it once enjoyed.
Kiselyev has negotiated various financial and political hurdles. His Media-Sotsium consortium is nominally noncommercial and includes former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and leading industrialist Arkady Volsky. Financial backing comes from investors, many of whom are loyal to the Kremlin.
Media-Sotsium bested 13 other contenders, at least three connected to staffers at the former TV-6 or ex-media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky’s NTV, another once-politically outspoken broadcaster forced to change policy after a management coup in April.
Media-Sotsium’s main rival in the auction was backed by the Russian offshoot of a U.S.-owned investment fund, TPG Aurora, which recruited former TV-6 news anchor Andrei Norkin as its lead figure.
The new company has not set a date to return to air, with local estimates ranging from June 1 to fall.
More important, many are guessing how much leeway TV-6’s new backers will allow the journalists, especially after a March 19 press conference in which key players admitted they were ready to do whatever was necessary just to return to the air.
A spokesman predicted that 40% of airtime would be devoted to cultural and entertainment fare, adding that it would break even in 2003 and move into profit by the end of 2004, although no financial details have been revealed.