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Russian TV6 loses fight, must close

SHARE Russian TV6 loses fight, must close

MOSCOW — Russia's TV6 television channel, the only national station outside Kremlin control, lost its legal battle today to overturn an order to shut down, a court spokeswoman said.

Moscow's Higher Arbitration Court upheld an earlier ruling that the station, owned by former Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky, should close for failing to comply with statutory financial regulations, she said.

Berezovsky has become a sharp critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and is in self-imposed exile in London. He says the closure is part of a Kremlin campaign to smother media alternatives to official propaganda.

A TV6 official said the station would appeal against the decision to the European Court of Human Rights in the French city of Strasbourg, Interfax news agency reported.

Another TV6 spokeswoman, Tatyana Blinova, told Interfax that recent changes to the law had affected the case.

"They concern amendments to the law on public limited companies, under which shareholders have no right to demand via the courts the liquidation of their company. This came into force on Jan. 1 this year," Blinova said.

In November, a Moscow court ordered TV6 to close, following a case brought by a minority shareholder, a pension fund linked to Russia's biggest oil producer, LUKOIL.

On Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher urged Russia to respect media freedoms by ensuring that TV6 won its fight to remain on the air.

Station managers say new programming and a hit reality show, "Behind the Glass," have made TV6 financially viable.

Ahead of the ruling, general manager Yevgeny Kiselyov had been upbeat about a positive outcome to his latest twist in his long-running battle to preserve an independent sector of Russian television.

Until April 2001, Kiselyov ran the private NTV network. But he was ousted by the gas monopoly Gazprom, in which the state is the largest shareholder.

Kiselyov and NTV's then-owner, media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, accused the gas giant of staging the takeover on the orders of the Kremlin to silence a vocal media critic.

Gazprom denied any political motivation, saying it was trying to rescue the company's shaky finances and seek a better return on its investment.

In the wake of the takeover, a large number of journalists left the channel and found new jobs at TV6, giving what was once a second-tier channel a higher profile and boosting its ratings.