One of Russia's Last Politically Independent TV Stations Threatened With Being Taken Off Air

TV2 Tomsk told state transmission contract will be terminated

One of Russia's last politically independent TV stations, TV2 in Tomsk, Siberia, will be forced to close at the end of this month after the state-owned company that transmits its signal said it would take it off the air.

The regional branch of Russian Radio and Television Broadcasting Network (RTRS) said it would not renew a transmission contract due to expire Dec. 31.

The company based its decision on a contractual clause requiring TV2 to hold a current license.

The award-winning station, which has picked up 22 national and regional Tefi awards — Russia's equivalent of an Emmy — says it has a license valid until February 2015 and had just been officially notified by Russian TV regulator Roskomnadzor that this would be extended for another 10 years, meaning there are no legal grounds to cancel its transmission contract.

Viktor Muchnik, general director of TV2, said the station paid its transmitter bills on time and was fully licensed.

"We shall challenge the decision of RTRS to terminate out contract in the courts," he told the BBC's Russian service.

He added: "If it is so simple to take us off the air, without any formalities, then tomorrow it will be possible to break anyone."

The station, following Moscow's TV Dozhd (TV Rain) being forced off the air earlier this year when it was dropped from the schedules of several Russian cable TV services, is now considered the last independent voice broadcasting on a public frequency in Russia. TV Dozhd switched to Internet broadcasting but lost their previous level public visibility.

TV2's independent coverage — from reporting on local scandals that have included the failure of regional authorities in Tomsk to clear winter streets of snow, to being the only television station in Russia to broadcast a critical German-made documentary about the cost and corruption surrounding the Sochi Winter Olympics, Putin's Games — has long made it a thorn in the side of the authorities.

It narrowly escaped closure last May, when a feeder at the regional transmission station, built in 1968, failed following a fire. The fault, which technical experts say required a simple repair or replacement, took weeks to fix. Under Russian broadcasting laws the station was required to return to air within a specific time or face closure and it was only after a noisy publicity campaign that RTRS was compelled to restore the connection.

RTRS says that this amounted to casting a "technical problem in a political light" and breached business protocols.

TV2, which has launched a campaign to raise awareness of its plight including planned demonstrations in Tomsk, 2,235 miles east of Moscow, says the decision is politically motivated and it will fight it in the courts.

The station — which was founded in November 1990 and went on air in May 1991, during the last year of the Soviet Union's existence — was one of the first privately owned television stations in Russia. During the attempted coup of August 1991 that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was one of the only stations that broadcast accurate and objective information about the tumultuous events in Moscow.

In a statement on its website, the station says that since then, "it became clear that the main argument in the battle for viewers for TV2 would simply be objective information about what is happening in the city and the country."

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