The Russian government has shut down Russia’s only remaining independent television station that extended beyond a regional audience. It has been replaced with a sports channel. The Russian press ministry claims T-V-S was closed because of financial and management problems. But those are the same reasons that were given when the Russian government closed T-V-S’s two independent predecessors. The real reason may have had something to do with the fact that all three stations were openly critical of the government of President Vladimir Putin.
In 2002, the Russian press ministry withdrew independent T-V-6’s license. And in 2001, the state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom was allowed to take over the independent N-T-V network. These actions appear to be part of a pattern by the Russian government to silence the independent media, said U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker:
“The fact that this T-V station, T-V-S, aired some of Russia’s most outspoken voices, [and] those previous actions that I cited -- the earlier closures of N-T-V and T-V-6 -- do lend this closure the appearance of possible political motivation.”
With all Russian television with a national reach now under the government’s control, it may be difficult for opposition candidates to get equal time on state-run media. As independent radio Echo Moskvy’s editor in chief Alexei Venediktov said, “It’s like when all candidates are excluded from the election campaign, except for only one.”
No modern society can prosper without a free flow of information, as State Department spokesman Reeker made clear:
“We do very much continue to believe that the development and protection of independent media are essential for Russia’s continuing political and economic development.”
The future of a free Russia depends on the ability of the media to report the news -- good and bad -- independently of the government. That ability, at least as far as national television is concerned, has now been lost in Russia.