'The Dimbleby of Moscow' in dirty tricks sex video scandal

A TV anchorman widely seen as Russia's most prominent liberal journalist has become the victim of a dirty tricks campaign involving a group sex video allegedly featuring him cavorting with prostitutes.

The video, sent to major TV stations in Moscow, appears to be the latest twist in a campaign, evidently backed by the Kremlin, to shut down his channel, TV-6, a leading independent voice in the Russian media.

Since the fall of the red flag a decade ago, Yevgeny Kiselyov has emerged as Russia's best TV interrogator. He has been dubbed "the Dimbleby of Moscow", a constant thorn in the side of presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin.

Kiselyov's previous newspaper, TV and radio group, Most Media, was axed after losing a court battle involving Putin sympathisers.

The heads of rival TV stations, including major networks ORT and RTR, refused to screen the "compromising" video when it was sent to them in December. However, the content, aimed at discrediting Kiselyov, was released on the internet.

A previous tape had allegedly depicted Russia's former prosecutor-general - also regarded as a Kremlin enemy - with two naked prostitutes.

Without denying the authenticity of the latest grainy video, which some commentators see as the work of the former KGB, Kiselyov asked: "What right does anyone have to demand from me a report on my private life? "My wife can ask me those kind of questions. What I eat, what I drink, who I meet, who I sleep with, how I spend my money and on what is nobody's business except for mine and that of my family and friends."

In the wake of the controversy, TV-6 won what may prove only a temporary reprieve in its battle to stave off "politically motivated" closure.

Judges overruled a lower court decision that the TV company was insolvent and should be liquidated.

Obscure bankruptcy laws were used to argue that, despite being currently profitable, the company should be liquidated because its net worth had fallen below a legally set level pegged to the value of its stock.

The station remains the only outlet to deliver criticism of the Government in Russia. The campaign to close it raises key questions about Putin's commitment to a free media, as does the jailing last month of military journalist Grigori Pasko for high treason.

Pasko was arrested in 1997 after he exposed to Japanese journalists the dumping of radioactive waste by the Russian navy in the Pacific Ocean.

By Will Stewart in Moscow

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