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Russian government threatens to shut down TV channel following controversial online poll

Journalists chat in the offices of independent Russian news channel Dozhd (TV Rain) after a news conference in Moscow, 4 February 2014.
Journalists chat in the offices of independent Russian news channel Dozhd (TV Rain) after a news conference in Moscow, 4 February 2014.

REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) have joined their affiliate, the Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ), in condemning the unprecedented measure taken by Russian authorities to shut down the independent TV channel Dozhd for its controversial online poll about the Siege of Leningrad during the Second World War.

The poll, published on 26 January, asked the public whether the Soviet Union should have surrendered Leningrad to the Germans in order to save hundreds of thousands of lives. According to media reports, many people were offended by the poll and questioned whether the questions asked in the poll are ethical.

As a result, most Russian cable and satellite providers began suspending the channel's signal on 29 January. Dozhd has issued a public apology following the outcry. However, the government has threatened to shut down the channel and accused it of '"attempting to rehabilitate Nazism." The Russian parliament has passed a resolution requesting an investigation on the poll. If a "just cause" is found, the TV channel could face closure.

While the RUJ has questioned the ethical standards of such a poll, they have stated that no law has been violated thus far according to the state media regulator in Russia.

"It seems that the government has blown this out of all proportion and is using this as an excuse to silence critical media in the country," said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. "It is clear that this is another attempt to suppress freedom of speech and limit criticism of authorities by the media."

Dozhd is among the few independent TV stations in Russia that regularly airs opposition views. It has recently reported about the protests and the police brutality in Ukraine.

"We have seen an increasing trend of criminal prosecutions against journalists and media organisations for libel in Russia by the government to silence critical voices," said EFJ President Mogens Blicher-Bjerregård. "This must be stopped."

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