Russian TV Station Forced Off Air Two Years Ago Makes Comeback

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TV2 in Tomsk has launched a new website with the help of crowdfunding and a Russian billionaire's charity.

Russia's last independent broadcaster, TV2 Tomsk — which was forced off air two years ago when authorities pulled the plug on its transmissions — is making a comeback, thanks to new website.

The website has been supported by Boris Zimin, a billionaire Russian businessman whose father, Dmitry Zimin, founded Russian telecoms company Vimpelcom, alongside crowdfunding and the sale of TV2 souvenirs to supporters, the station's editor in chief Viktor Muchnik tells The Hollywood Reporter.

"The website is still at a test stage," he says. "It will be refined further. Technically, we can broadcast news program on it, though we cannot yet afford that as the production costs are too high for us."

The Russian-language site enables TV2 to get its trademark independent journalism to audiences not only across the country but to Russian speakers worldwide. It currently receives 250,000 unique users per month, 60 percent of them in Tomsk, but Muchnik claims this number is growing, adding that getting its message across in a country where the public's only access to television news is controlled by the Kremlin is an important one.

"Over the past two years all media associated with TV2 — radio stations — have been destroyed through license review or forced sales at a low price," he tells THR. "Our site does not need a license and video can be displayed on it."

But the situation still remain challenging.

"To think that current Russian conditions allow for a viable future for independent media would be naive," Muchnik says. "We constantly feel the pressure of the authorities in one form or another. But until then, while keeping at least some opportunity to work, we work."

TV2 fought hard to keep its license but eventually state transmission pulled the plug moments after President Vladimir Putin's state broadcast at midnight December 14, 2014, the screens going blank as the national anthem played to a backdrop of fluttering Russian tricolor flags.

Zimin's support for TV2 — and for TV Rain, Moscow, another independent station forced off air a year before the Siberian station — has brought him into conflict with the Kremlin.

In July 2015 his Sreda Foundation, which supports independent media in Russia, was labeled a "foreign agent" under a controversial law designed to identify charitable groups that receive foreign funding. Zimin has insisted that all of Sreda's money comes exclusively from a fund accumulated by his father from his Russian telecoms business.