Illegal takeover of provincial station mirrors NTV drama

September 28, 2001

His Excellency Vladimir Putin
President of the Russian Federation
The Kremlin
Moscow, Russia

Via Facsimile: 011-7-095-206-5173 and 206-6277

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned by the recent illegal takeover of the television station TVK in central Russia’s Lipetsk Region. After investigating the circumstances, we believe this was a politically motivated attempt by local governor Oleg Korolyov to control the station ahead of gubernatorial elections scheduled for April 2002.

TVK, the first private television station in the Lipetsk region, has been both a popular source of news and a harsh critic of Governor Korolyov’s policies. The recently ousted management of TVK has openly backed the governor’s main rival in the upcoming election.

For several years, minority and majority shareholders have been locked in a deeply politicized conflict over management of the station. According to local press reports, TVK’s ownership dispute began in 1998 when Leonid Trufanov, the founder and former owner of the station, sold a controlling stake to the Moscow-based Zenit bank.

In 2000, a pro-Korolyov group of TVK shareholders sold their shares to the Moscow-based Energiya corporation. Energiya’s general director, a deputy in the Lipetsk Legislative Assembly, is closely allied with the Korolyov administration.

Energiya then challenged Zenit’s 1998 share purchase in court, seeking to gain a controlling stake of TVK and replace its management.

Energiya lost its case. Earlier this year, Moscow’s Kuntsevskiy Court prohibited Energiya from conducting a TVK shareholders’ meeting. The Sovetskiy District Court in Lipetsk later upheld that decision. Despite these rulings, Energiya had a shareholders’ meeting on August 24 where delegates named pro-Korolyov business executive Dmitry Kolbasko as TVK’s new general director.

In the early hours of August 29, police officers from the security service of the local Internal Affairs Administration took control of TVK’s offices, according to local and international press reports. Claiming to act on Kolbasko’s behalf, the police prevented station staff from entering the building.
In an interview with the Moscow daily Kommersant, TVK’s ousted general director, Aleksandr Lykov, claimed that the Energiya-led shareholders meeting had actually taken place in the office of Lieutenant Governor Sergey Dorovskiy. Lykov and a local source told CPJ they believe the Korolyov administration backed the takeover in an effort to influence TVK’s news programming ahead of the gubernatorial election.

Soon after, TVK’s deposed management filed a legal complaint with the local prosecutor’s office and also asked the Media Ministry in Moscow to suspend the station’s broadcasting license until the courts resolve the dispute. On September 1, Deputy Media Minister Andrey Romanchenko suspended TVK’s license for 10 days. When the suspension expired on September 11, Romanchenko extended it until October 11.
On September 17, the Sovetskiy District Court reversed all previous rulings and upheld the results of Energiya’s August 24 shareholders’ meeting. The new ruling also affirmed Kolbasko’s appointment as the station’s new general director. The court ordered former general director Lykov to give TVK’s seal, keys, and documentation to the new management. As of today it was unclear whether Lykov had complied with this order

The old TVK staff is currently broadcasting local programming from another station, STV-7. Meanwhile, TVK’s ousted management plans to appeal the Sovetskiy District Court’s latest ruling in a regional court.

CPJ is disturbed that Energiya took forcible control of the station and its management despite two previous rulings against the company. Moreover, the Sovetskiy District Court ruling affirming these illegitimate acts is a worrisome development reminiscent of the aggressive legal tactics used by Gazprom Media in its April 2001 takeover of NTV.

While press freedom violations in Russia’s major cities have received much international attention, the takeover of TVK demonstrates an ongoing effort to silence independent journalists and media outlets in Russia’s provinces. We urge Your Excellency to initiate an inquiry into the role of the Lipetsk regional administration in the unlawful takeover.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.
Ann K. Cooper Executive Director


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director