Russia’s largest independent television station TV6 went off-air Monday after a legal struggle of several months and backstage infighting between employees, managers, investors and politicians.

The blackout of the station’s screens by order of media minister Mikhail Lesin gives rise to new concerns about media freedom in Russia and is likely to lead to a stepping-up of international pressure on President Vladimir Putin.

At the hub of the commercial/political chicanery is TV6 owner Boris Berezovsky, controversial businessman and outspoken critic of the Kremlin, currently domiciled abroad to escape arrest on fraud charges he claims are politically inspired.

On January 11 Russia’s senior arbitration court ordered the station’s dissolution but, according to TV6 director Yevgeny Kiselyov, the government then proposed a deal to management and journalists under which they would repudiate Berezovsky in return for remaining on-air and the right to compete for a new license – a deal condemned by the media mogul as a “sign of weakness”.

Having reluctantly accepted the deal, however, Kiselyov underwent a change of heart on Monday and reneged on the agreement. Within hours of his U-turn, bailiffs arrived at the media ministry demanding that TV6 be stripped of its license in line with the January 11 court order.

“We have no decision but to fulfill the decision of the bailiffs,” said minister Lesin, hands aloft in pious innocence. Station staff held meetings throughout Monday night to discuss their plans, insisting they would continue to fight the closure.

News source: Wall Street Journal