Infighting imperils TVS

Politics, debt may cause station to go dark

MOSCOW — Russia’s independent channel TVS could close by Monday if its shareholders do not provide a cash injection to pay debts, salaries and running costs.

TVS is already off the air in 95% of Moscow after the city-owned cable operator dropped it this week, claiming it owes $8.2 million in transmission fees in the Russian capital, where its ratings are strongest.

Infighting between two groups, each controlling 45% of shares (10% belong to channel employees), has been longstanding. Conflict seemed to have been resolved earlier this month when the leader of one side, Anatoly Chubais, agreed to sell his stake to his opponent, Oleg Deripaska, for $10 million.

But hope has now been dashed, as sources claim Deripaska is offering half that amount now, plus forgiveness on any share of debts.

Given that politics plays as much of a role in Russian television as finance, the outlook looks grim.

TVS is critical of the Kremlin, which means its future looks uncertain in that there will be presidential and parliamentary elections in the next 12 months.

Its shareholder leaders — Deripaska is a metals magnate, Chubais the head of the national energy utility — may gain more political capital by closing the station, making the writeoff of money invested over the last year look like small change.

TVS topper Yevgeny Kiselyev and his core team founded Vladimir Gusinsky’s NTV channel. Its political independence was compromised after a controversial hostile management take-over in 2001, and they moved to TV6, owned by power broker Boris Berezovsky. It was taken off the air in January 2002 after litigation proceedings brought by a minority shareholder.