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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Indifference And Duplicity Seal TV6's Fate

With the shutdown Monday of TV6, Russia has lost its last national television company not controlled by the government. The action comes only nine months after the squelching of the biggest privately owned communications group, Media-MOST. The Kremlin's victory over TV6 came more easily than the previous one and has provoked little public reaction.

The bottom line is that today, all national television broadcasting is either fully controlled by the Kremlin or constrained by self-censorship. The submission of NTV and now of TV6 stands to encourage any local boss seeking to get rid of his own political and media rivals. In the provinces, the struggle may be as fierce as in Moscow, but the methods are generally less sophisticated, and flagrant violations of the law are common. A local television company in the city of Lipetsk was physically seized recently by a group of people reportedly acting with the governor's blessing.

Last spring, as the Kremlin struggle against NTV reached its climax, the public was emotionally engaged. Thousands came out to rally in support of NTV -- an unusual public reaction.

The political elite was swept by passionate debate. Some defended the Kremlin, arguing that the takeover of NTV really was just the resolution of a business dispute unrelated to freedom of speech. An eloquent minority called it a betrayal of democracy.

Today there is no such passion. True, some voices were raised against the liquidation of TV6 and there were public expressions of concern over the immediate threat to freedom of the press. But the Kremlin propagandists barely feel the need to respond; the public clearly is not interested.

It's not that people are unaware of the motives behind the liquidation of TV6; in a recent St. Petersburg poll, 39 percent said it was a political move. But they see no problem with that. More than 70 percent in the same poll believe President Vladimir Putin is an advocate of democratic change. "The public does not want to defend its interests," remarked Yevgeny Yasin, a liberal economist.

The public does not see the TV6 drama as having anything to do with its rights and freedoms. This was what made the Kremlin victory so easy. This public indifference, combined with high approval ratings for the political leadership, will make further subjugation of the media easy for the government.

Some print media and online publications remain beyond Kremlin control. So far, the government has not sought to bring them under its thumb, since the newspaper runs are generally small and Internet access is still limited to a small percentage of the Russian population. But there is no question the Kremlin will be able to bring them under control if it deems it necessary.

In a recent interview with Polish media, Putin lamented the Russian people's excessive dependence on the state. He blamed this attitude on the bad legacy of Communist government, which deprived its citizens of all property, responsibility and initiative. It appears, however, that the Russian president has peculiar ideas about how to encourage the Russian people to be more entrepreneurial and responsible. While he calls for reducing government control over economic matters, he appears to believe that government guidance and control are fine in other areas.

Putin has assumed the role of the benefactor and savior of TV6 journalists. The TV6 team will be assured of support from the government, he said. The journalists were thus offered a choice: either be kicked out or surrender to the Kremlin. They could accept financing from a source chosen by the government or cease to be broadcasters. One of the top managers of TV6 referred to this dilemma as being caught between the bad and the very bad. After some hesitation, the journalists opted for the very bad alternative. The government reacted immediately. The only way for the TV6 team to come back on air will be with the Kremlin's forgiveness and blessing. This means that they, like NTV before them, will have to become reasonably loyal and cooperative with the Kremlin.

Masha Lipman, deputy editor of Yezhenedelny Zhurnal financed by Vladimir Gusinsky, contributed this comment to The Washington Post.