Government influence over the Russian TV sector is under scrutiny after it shut down private station TVS.

The channel was pulled off the air on Sunday and replaced with a state-owned sports channel. Explaining the move, the Ministry of Press blamed “the financial, personnel and management crisis” at the station.

The collapse of TVS has been expected for some time as the station struggled to cope with heavy debts. Its staff have not been paid for three months and it was recently dropped by Moscow’s biggest cable company.

However, the manner in which it has folded has sparked a debate over press freedom, with the government now in almost total control of the airwaves.

“The channel might have closed for the most trivial, financial reason, but by taking this step, they have added a political dimension to their decision,” declared TVS news director Yevgeny Kiselyov.

Kiselyov – one of president Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critics – is no stranger to government intervention. Two years ago he left private station NTV after a state-backed takeover [WAMN: 17-Apr-01].

However, he believes TVS’s owners are principally to blame for its collapse. “First and foremost, the shareholders are guilty for not taking the necessary decisions at various stages of the channel's existence … leading to the channel's economic collapse.”

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff