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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lesin Tries to Mediate an Agreement in TVS Dispute

Mostelecom cable television continued cutting off TVS broadcasts in Moscow households over a debt dispute Wednesday as Press Minister Mikhail Lesin stepped into the fray to try to mediate an agreement.

Late Wednesday, Mostelecom had already blocked TVS from 1 million of its 3 million subscribers, said Vadim Yakunin, the deputy head of the city government-controlled company. Mostelecom has promised to shut down all service by Friday.

Lesin met with Mostelecom head Alexander Makhonov and the city government's information chief, Alexander Muzykantsky, on Wednesday afternoon and met with representatives of Media-Sotsium, which holds TVS's broadcasting license, later in the day.

Lesin told reporters Wednesday evening that the dispute was the result of a power vacuum and a lack of funds at TVS. He said the two feuding groups of shareholders that run TVS have only two options: either let one group take control of the channel or declare their venture a failure.

"The sooner the shareholders can make a decision, the sooner the situation would be resolved," he said.

TVS has suffered from months of infighting among the wealthy businessmen who hold shares in its parent company, Shestoi Telekanal, and sit on the Media-Sotsium board.

Last month, aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska offered the 45 percent stake he controls with his allies in Shestoi Telekanal to a group of businessmen led by Unified Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais. The Chubais group, which already has 45 percent, has yet to respond, even though the deadline for a decision was May 23.

Makhonov and Muzykantsky reiterated to Lesin on Wednesday their claim that TVS owes $8 million in service fees, Yakunin said. They pointed out that two other clients - TV3 and TNT - have paid $3 million and $10 million, respectively. The timeframe for the payments was unclear.

Media-Sotsium officials could not be reached for comment.

TVS has said $8 million was an excessive amount and complained that Mostelecom has never spelled out what the fee was for. TVS spokeswoman Tatyana Blinova said TV6, which used to broadcast on TVS's frequency, never paid any fees to Mostelecom.

A Press Ministry source said the Moscow city government had granted TV6 the status of a "socially important project" with free access to the cable network. TVS does not have such a status, the source said.

Mostelecom officials maintain they are switching off TVS over unpaid fees alone, although they have no plans to sue TVS over them.

Leonid Mayevsky, the head of the State Duma's subcommittee on telecommunications, said, however, that the switch-off is an attempt to gag the "only independent national television channel left" ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections.