Moscow to silence Putin’s TV critics

Nick Holdsworth Moscow


Published at 12:01AM, December 8 2014


Russia’s last politically independent TV station will be forced to close at the end of this month after the state-owned company that transmits its signal said it would be taken off the air.

The regional branch of Russian Radio and Television Broadcasting Network (RTRS) said it would not renew a transmission contract for TV2 in Tomsk, Siberia, due to expire on December 31. It claimed the station’s broadcast licence had expired.

The station, which launched in May 1991 and was the first privately owned TV channel in Russia, insisted it was operating legally and said the closure threat was the culmination of months of pressure from authorities unhappy with its news coverage.

Independent news has virtually disappeared from Russian TV screens. Coverage of big events, such as the conflict in eastern Ukraine or the rouble crisis, is typically slanted towards the Kremlin’s line. Moscow’s TV Rain, which leans towards the opposition, was forced off air this year. It has re-established itself as an internet station, although new laws may soon spell its end.

TV2 was one of the only stations in Russia to broadcast footage of the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991 and became the first station to send a news crew to cover the first war in Chechnya in 1996.

It is this fearless reputation that seems to have upset the authorities, despite its relative geographical obscurity, based in a small city 2,235 miles east of Moscow.

Last December it was the only TV station in Russia that broadcastPutin’s Games, a German-made documentary that exposed corruption surrounding the Sochi winter Olympics. The film, which revealed shady deals between banks and companies close to the Kremlin, was also shown at Moscow’s Artdocfest. This year’s documentary festival, which opens tomorrow, has been told it will not receive government funding. “The station had always run stories that the Tomsk authorities did not like,” Simone Baumann, the producer of Putin’s Games told The Times. “Even last year, when they ran the film it was a very, very brave decision for a Russian television channel. No one else dared.”

TV2’s problems date back to May when it narrowly escaped losing its licence after a fire destroyed a cable at the transmission station, meaning it could not broadcast. The fault, which experts said required a simple repair or replacement, took weeks to fix. Broadcasting laws required the station to return to air sooner or face closure, and it was only after a noisy campaign that the RTRS restored the connection.

The station said is would use all measures “legal and moral” to fight the new threat to its future.

Yulia Muchnik, who anchors TV2’s daily news show, said the broadcasting regulator Roskomnadzor recently confirmed a ten-year extension of its licence but officials now claimed to have lost the paperwork. “It is clear there is an order to close us down because we are independent,” she said.