Russia’s leading liberal television channel Dozhd (Rain) TV has been taken off air by several of the country’s cable operators after the station published a controversial online poll about the Siege of Leningrad. On Sunday, a day before the 70th anniversary of the siege, Dozhd TV asked readers whether Leningrad (now St Petersburg), should have been surrendered to the Nazis to save hundreds of thousands of lives.
The poll sparked ire across Russia with scores of bloggers, politicians and journalists accusing the television channel of desecrating the memory of the Great Patriotic War, the Russian name for the Second World War. Between 600,000 and 1.5 million people died during the Nazi siege which lasted from 1941 to 1944. The poll was removed from Dozhd TV’s website just minutes after it was published. The channel later tweeted an apology, claiming the question was “an error by the producer … and the social network editor”.
Following the poll, Yuri Pripachkin, head of Russia’s Cable Television Association, suggested disconnecting the channel. Since then, three cable operators, R-Telecom, Akado and NTV Plus have taken Dozhd TV off air. A press release from NTV Plus said the decision had been made because the channel’s editorial concept had “changed significantly”. Since then, the St Petersburg’s prosecutor’s office has said it has found no evidence of “extremism” following an investigation into Dozhd TV. Full results of the audit will be released next week.
In a statement to press, Mikhail Zygar, editor-in-chief of Dozhd TV, said the channel had found out about the cancellations via Twitter. He said: “We received an official note from Akado only today, and we’ve got nothing from the rest. Tricolor sent us a note saying that the service agreement will be terminated if the channel presents any ‘incorrect editorial politics’ during the following 30 days.”
Supporters of Dozhd TV have claimed that Pripachkin and other Kremlin backers have long been itching to pull the plug on the channel, which since its launch in 2010 has covered Russian news and politics, often from a liberal perspective. The channel came to be known globally for its coverage of anti-government protests in late 2011 and 2012. Writing on his Facebook page, GQ Editor Michael Idov said that the channel’s critics had finally “grasped at the flimsiest excuse to threaten to switch it off”.
Zygar said: “We feel a tremendous support from our viewers. We know they’ve been calling their cable providers in disagreement, cancelling their contracts. However, we see a significant increase in paid online subscriptions. We are grateful to everyone who supports us.”