#10 - JRL 7213
Shareholder shift ends debilitating dispute at last Russian independent TV
June 7, 2003
A conflict between the owners of Russia's last independent television channel, which had for months paralyzed the station, came to an end Friday as one of its two main shareholders increased his stake in TVS from 45 to 90 percent.
Aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska became TVS' sole owner when he acquired an additional 45 percent stake that had until Thursday belonged to his arch-rival, national electricity grid boss and pro-reform politician Anatoly Chubais, TVS spokeswoman Tatyana Blinova told the ITAR-TASS news agency.
Chubais, the chairman of the UES electricity grid and a leading figure in the SPS pro-reform party which will be competing in next December's parliamentary elections, Thursday sold his stake in TVS to two business associates. On Friday, they in turn sold their newly acquired shares to Deripaska, a businessman analysts often describe as being well connected to the Kremlin.
Ten percent of TVS's shares remain under the control of the channel's journalists.
TVS general director Yevgeny Kiselyov, a widely respected veteran of independent Russian journalism who manages the 10 percent stake on behalf of the reporters, welcomed Friday's transaction.
"The fact that TVS now has just one owner is a positive development, whatever may happen next," Kiselyov told the independent radio station Moscow Echo.
A strife between Deripaska and Chubais had for months paralized TVS, starving of funds the last Russian TV channel to provide independent news coverage.
As a result, the city of Moscow began earlier this week to disconnect TVS from its cable network, which brings television to a majority of viewers in the Russian capital, claiming the channel had failed to honor outstanding debts.
It was likely that Russian President Vladimir Putin had a hand in the resolution of the conflict to Deripaska's advantage, the online newspaper Gazeta.ru commented late Friday.
A solution to the dispute was long delayed "because Vladimir Putin kept putting off settling the issue," the news web site wrote.
The settlement, when it came, "was only the accomplishment of the president's will," Gazeta.ru added.
Deripaska's take-over of TVS was the latest episode in the chaotic saga of a channel set up almost a year ago following a controversial court decision shutting down TV6, a television network owned by self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, a former Putin supporter turned into his arch-nemesis.
TVS took over TV6's assets and staff, and a shareholding pool of prominent businessmen, called Mediasotsyum, was set up to guarantee its independence.
But as an ever-growing number of shareholders sold their stake and walked out from the pool, Chubais and Deripaska quickly became its leading and increasingly conflicting figures.
Before being terminated, Berezovsky's TV6 had provided shelter to a host of independent-minded journalists who in 2001 had left formerly independent channel NTV after its controversial take-over by state-controled gas giant Gazprom.
Russia's three main television channels are state-owned Channel One and Rossia, as well as NTV, all considered by observers to be under strong Kremlin influence.
Russia is facing parliamentary elections next December and presidential elections in March 2004, in which Putin, who has held office since 2000, is widely expected to be reelected for a second mandate.