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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No End to Politics at Kiselyov TV

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The changes (read takeover and liquidation) at two TV stations in the past year were driven first and foremost by political considerations, no matter what was said about debts and unprofitability.

The Kremlin didn't much like the idea of their owners, Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, having such a powerful tool at their disposal.

Now with the tender for the license of Berezovsky's bankrupt TV6 to be decided Wednesday, we are likely to see another political decision. A Kremlin-orchestrated bid appears all but certain to win.

The trouble is, if it does, it will be hard for anyone to criticize the decision because it would put Yevgeny Kiselyov and his team back on the air.

In the battles first at NTV and then at TV6, where he fled after Gazprom took over NTV, Kiselyov took on the role of defender of a free press in Russia.

By bringing back Kiselyov, the Kremlin can say to the world, "See, we were never trying to stifle the journalists."

But whatever anyone may think of Kiselyov, and plenty of believers in a free press feel that he has discredited himself, the situation is not that simple.

Behind him in the bid stand a consortium of oligarchs and two political heavyweights. The details of the arrangement are fuzzy, and its resemblance to ORT when it was set up in 1995 is unsettling. Of the 49 percent of ORT not held by the state, 8 percent was held by Berezovsky, 3 percent by Gazprom and 38 percent by a consortium of banks. Before long the full 49 percent, and effective control, turned up in Berezovsky's hands.

Another issue is that Kiselyov's bid, if considered objectively, may not be the best of the 14 submitted.

Pavel Korchagin and Andrei Norkin, two respected journalists who used to be part of Kiselyov's team, bid separately with serious financial backing from U.S.-owned investment fund TPG Aurora. In economic and journalistic terms, their bid is strong. Unfortunately, politically it is weak.

Press Minister Mikhail Lesin's tender commission has independent members, but even they cannot always resist political pressure. Take the decision two years ago to renew TV Center's license. Commission members said they feared the political consequences of stripping Mayor Yury Luzhkov of his channel, even though TV Center's rival, the VID production company, presented a stronger concept.

We don't envy the decision the commission's nine members have to make Wednesday. Some it seems may have to put their professional and personal preferences aside to do what is politically expedient.