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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Klin, Power Struggle Hits the Airwaves

KLIN, Moscow Region -- Television stations often have to fight for airtime in the cutthroat conditions of the market. But in July, staff at Klin Television ended up dodging an armed guard and breaking into their own station through a window.


The live midnight appeal to the citizens of Klin that followed was the high point of a still-simmering struggle between an independent television company and a wrathful local administration that tried to close it down.


It is just one skirmish in a conflict going on across Russia between local administrations accustomed to running the local media and journalists trying to assert their independence.


The private station, founded last year, was the first in Klin, a quiet town of 100,000 people 80 kilometers north of Moscow. Under the dynamic management of director Yury Samsonov, it soon enraged the local mayor, Alexander Postrigan,with a lively diet of American films, investigative news reports, interviews with discontented locals and live phone-ins, including one with the notorious ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.


"They have been destabilizing the situation," Postrigan said.


In purely physical terms the two warring sides looked unfairly matched. On one side was a small two-story red-brick building in a muddy yard on the edge of the town, with just 10 employees. On the other side was the imposing concrete headquarters of the federally funded local administration and its 700 employees.


On the afternoon of July 8, Postrigan made his move. Three policeman turned up at the station with an order from the mayor to close it down. The document said the station owed rent arrears to the local telephone exchange and had broken sanitation regulations.


"I ran as fast as I could, ahead of them up the stairs," said Viktor Ryzhov, the station technician. "But they kept up with me, they were well trained. And when I tried to get through the door to the studio they just picked me up bodily and thrust me aside. Then I ran to the phones, but they weren't working, they'd been switched off."


The policemen went into the room with the power controls and turned off the electricity to the studio, forcing Klin Television off the air. Then they sealed the door and stood guard in front of it.


But late that night the staff struck back. Ryzhov climbed on to the low roof next to the power-room, sawed through the window-bars, climbed in and reconnected the power. The rest of the staff, who had been allowed to stay in the powerless studio, surreptitiously went on air and appealed for help.


"People rang in all night," said newsreader Larisa Shestkova. She said some even threatened to sit down in protest on the main Leningrad highway which runs through the town.


The mayor backed down. "We have a law on local administration which says I had the right to close them down," said Postrigan. "And we have a law on the media which says I didn't have the right. So I opened the station again."


Postrigan complained that the station had a "strategy of small jabs" which deliberately belittled his administration. This week, for example, Klin Television has been screening critical reports on the mayor's plans to sell a site next to a church in the town center and build a parking lot.


The mayor also called the station an "outlet for fascism," citing their live phone-ins with Zhirinovsky and hardline Communist Viktor Anpilov.


Samsonov, the unlikely partisan and thorn in the side of the mayor, is just 22. A tall, boyish, blond man, he clearly revels in the controversy he has caused.


"The essence of the problem is that we are a completely private television station," he said. "They find that hard to accept."


He laughed at the idea he was an extremist, saying he could not simultaneously support extreme right-winger Zhirinovsky and extreme left-winger Anpilov.


"Zhirinovsky is an extremist," Samsonov conceded. "He stirs up the situation. But he exists and therefore we ought to show him."


Asked however if the ultranationalist had been more popular after his broadcast on Klin Television, Samsonov said "undoubtedly yes."


"We've sent invitations to Gaidar, Yavlinsky, Shakhrai," he said, naming three prominent politicians in the liberal camp. "But they are not interested. The democrats are less active."


Fighting is still going on in the television war. Samsonov said the administration had started taking down antennas from apartment blocks, which people needed to tune in to the station. He said the administration was stepping up its campaign against them ahead of municipal elections scheduled for October.


Postrigan said he had the authority to take down the antennas and the town was now forming its own municipal station.


In a straw poll of people on the streets of Klin almost everyone questioned was behind Samsonov's station.


"I am against them interfering with the television, I like the way it works," said Klavdia Dubova, a woman selling apples.


"We are for the station. Please God, don't close it, there'll be nothing left to watch," said Valery Dolgov, a businessman.


Samsonov said he had never intended to become such an adversary of the administration, it had just turned out that way.


"The problem is that there is no normal opposition in this town," he said. "If there had been, this would never have happened."


Postrigan complained that the station had a "strategy of small jabs" which deliberately belittled his administration. This week, for example, Klin Television has been screening critical reports on the mayor's plans to sell a site next to a church in the town center and build a parking lot.


The mayor also called the station an "outlet for fascism," citing their live phone-ins with Zhirinovsky and hardline Communist Viktor Anpilov.


Samsonov, the unlikely partisan and thorn in the side of the mayor, is just 22. A tall, boyish, blond man, he clearly revels in the controversy he has caused.


"The essence of the problem is that we are a completely private television station," he said. "They find that hard to accept."


He laughed at the idea he was an extremist, saying he could not simultaneously support extreme right-winger Zhirinovsky and extreme left-winger Anpilov.


"Zhirinovsky is an extremist," Samsonov conceded. "He stirs up the situation. But he exists and therefore we ought to show him."


Asked however if the ultranationalist had been more popular after his broadcast on Klin Television, Samsonov said "undoubtedly yes."


"We've sent invitations to Gaidar, Yavlinsky, Shakhrai," he said, naming three prominent politicians in the liberal camp. "But they are not interested. The democrats are less active."


Fighting is still going on in the television war. Samsonov said the administration had started taking down antennas from apartment blocks, which people needed to tune in to the station. He said the administration was stepping up its campaign against them ahead of municipal elections scheduled for October.


Postrigan said he had the authority to take down the antennas and the town was now forming its own municipal station.


In a straw poll of people on the streets of Klin almost everyone questioned was behind Samsonov's station.


"I am against them interfering with the television, I like the way it works," said Klavdia Dubova, a woman selling apples.


"We are for the station. Please God, don't close it, there'll be nothing left to watch," said Valery Dolgov, a businessman.