TVS license holder to challenge closure

Press Minister Lesin's order disputed

MOSCOW — Repercussions from the closure of Russia’s last independent national channel TVS continue, with many disputing the legality of Press Minister Mikhail Lesin’s order to pull it at midnight Saturday.

Media-Socium, the license holder for TVS covering the 12 private shareholders, said it would challenge Lesin’s order in court. Media-Socium is headed by former Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov.

Disputing Lesin’s claim that he ordered TVS off the air “in the interest of viewers,” Media-Socium said that the decision could only be taken after a court verdict.

TVS was replaced within 25 minutes with a state-owned sports channel. But the legality of that, too, is open to dispute. Media law states that frequencies must be put out to tender — as in 2002, when TVS beat other bidders for the frequency previously used by Boris Berezovsky’s TV6.

The status of legal action brought by Berezovsky’s TV6 team remains unclear.

The managing company for TV6 won Moscow court actions a week ago that declared the original litigation against it as illegal. TV6 representatives then demanded that Lesin reinstate its license and remove the temporary license on which TVS has been operating. Lesin has taken no action, although legally he is obliged to do so.

Political exile

The likelihood of a Berezovsky-backed station returning to the airwaves is small, however, as he is in political exile in London and a critic of the Kremlin. But any attempt to sell that license to the Sport channel, or any other player, would also contradict Russian media law.

At the end of his battle to keep a politically independent station on the air, TVS topper Yevgeny Kiselyev didn’t mince words in his criticism of the channel’s shareholders and the press ministry. His office continued to assert that the closure of TVS was an “absolutely political” act.

Speaking to more than 300 staffers Sunday night in the station’s main studio — from where Kiselyev’s influential weekly “Itogi” news roundup was broadcast — he confirmed that there would be no attempt to revive the channel with other backers.

The priorities, he said, were to pay back salaries, which are due for at least three months, and to find work for employees at other companies.

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