#7 - JRL 7237
Russia back in the USSR with private TV shutdown: press
June 23, 2003
Moscow's press lamented Monday that Russia was slipping back to Soviet-era bad habits after briefly flirting with democracy after the weekend closure of the country's last major private television network TVS.
"The country of one channel," the Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote in a somber headline over a color photograph of the rainbow-colored test-card that replaced TVS at midnight Saturday.
"The era of private television has come to an end in Russia," the paper noted.
Meanwhile the Izvestia daily joked sarcastically that television will now be "healthy" -- at least from the government's point of view.
"From now on, national television will consist either of entertainment channels or state channels" as in the Soviet era when private media were banned, Izvestia wrote.
TVS was shut down by the courts after its failure to pay some 60 million dollars in debts, and its financial struggles had been well documented.
But many in the Moscow media darkly hinted Monday that the closure was likely linked to politics. Parliamentary elections are coming up in December while President Vladimir Putin himself faces re-election in March.
"Everybody we spoke to said that they thought that the shut-down was illegal," the Vedomosti daily said.
The stationed had housed many of the reporters who -- frequently critical of the Kremlin and the war in Chechnya -- had been forced to hop channels over two years as their previous stations also fell into state hands.
Russia's three main national television station -- Channel One, Rossiya and NTV -- are now either directly or indirectly controlled by the state.
TVS has been replaced by a sports channel.
The station had been expected to go off the air on Monday morning rather than Saturday night -- and some newspapers here plotted conspiracy theories in the premature shutdown.
The station's chief editor and star political talks show host Yevgeny Kiselyov holds a weekly broadcast on Sunday evening which Nezavisimaya Gazeta speculated was going to reveal "earth shattering" information about Putin's administration.
The press ministry "just could not wait" to close the station, moving in before chief editor Kiselyov had a chance to speak on his weekly Sunday evening political talks show, said Vedomosti.
Kiselyov himself was quoted in the Russky Kuryer newspaper as saying that "everyone knows" who is responsible for his station's demise -- a clear reference to the Putin administration.