Romanov moves into the broadcasting business back home but denies Playboy link

HE HAS adopted the role of vociferous media critic during his ownership of Hearts, but Vladimir Romanov appears to have adopted an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach to the fourth estate.

Romanov has been heavily involved in a consortium, funded by his Ukio Bankas Investment Group, which has been granted a licence to start the first television channel dedicated solely to sport in his native Lithuania. Due to start broadcasting in July, the channel will offer dedicated sports news and live events, including Scottish and English Premier League football.

Romanov, though, has denied that he is poised to move into the adult magazine market. Reports in Lithuania had suggested Romanov was close to agreeing a deal to launch the country's version of Playboy magazine. But the banking tycoon replied "I know nothing about it" when asked directly about the issue.

Romanov was initially similarly dismissive of the television project. But Jonas Liniauskas, chairman of the Ukio-backed Sporto Komunikacijos, said: "Such a channel has a niche and specific audience. There is no similar channel in Lithuania. However, we feel there is a need for it."

A budget of around 4.5m has been set aside for the scheme which has an initial five-year plan. Eimuntas Akramas, another director of Romanov's company, added: "It is a sports channel targeted to a broad audience. We will broadcast quality sports news, the best tournaments from western Europe, such as the (English] Premier League and we will mostly deal with the most popular sports."

Basketball, the most popular Lithuanian sport, will also be screened live.

Rights to SPL games would be negotiated from next season. Many, mostly Hearts, games are already broadcast on the Lithuanian Tango TV, with Romanov securing and paying for the rights. English games, meanwhile, are available to Lithuanian cable television.

Charlie Mann, Romanov's spokesman, said: "There is no doubt that sport plays a major part in Mr Romanov's business life and this is another string to his bow."