Flushed with success: Russian TV journalist and new media czar Dmitry Kiselyov receives Medal of Friendship from the Kremlin. Photo: AFP/ RIA-Nvosti/ Mikhail Klimenty/Getty Images
It’s one thing for Kremlin critics to say that TV has gone down the toilet since President Vladimir Putin pulled the chain on independent programming.
But last week viewers of a state TV news report on protests in Kiev -- against President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to reject a trade deal with the EU – were startled by clips from a Swedish educational series on bodily functions.
The title of the series is a play on Swedish words for “wee wee” and “poo poo,” words familiar to kiddies worldwide. But its fanciful cartoon portrayal of backsides and genitalia was denounced as the kind of “Euro Sodom” that innocent Ukrainian children would be exposed to if Ukraine went West instead of East.
Leading the charge was Rossiya 1 anchor Dmitry Kiselyov, who informed viewers, rather contradictorily, that Sweden was a sewer of child depravity with a “sharp rise in child abortions…from the age of nine, and it is not surprising that child impotence starts at 12. There you have European values in all their glory.”
For his Kremlin-aligned views, Kiselyov was rewarded with a new job as czar of a restructured state news conglomerate.
In a surprise decree published Monday, President Vladimir Putin announced that RIA Novosti – which had struggled to maintain its balance under state control – would be disbanded and replaced by a (more reliable) news service called Russia Today.
In a bitter exit note, RIA called the move “the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.”
Kiselyov’s rising state stardom is also a pointer to a more intense crackdown on homosexuality, in the apparent guise of child protection.
Last year he made headlines for backing up new Russian laws criminalizing “gay propaganda” on his TV program, saying that mere fines for “homosexual propaganda among teenagers (are) not enough.”
Homosexuals should be banned from blood and sperm donations, he maintained, and in cases of accidental death, their hearts should be “buried or burned” to prevent them from being used as donated organs.
This medieval-sounding argument was “normal,” he added later, explaining that it was internationally recognized that HIV is mainly spread by homosexuals – although Russian AIDS specialists credit an epidemic of heroin addiction, augmented by stigmatization of drug users.
No matter. The latest move has hit three major Putin targets in one: the disobedient media, the LGBT community and the West. A bargain for Kremlin spin doctors. But not for the majority of Russians who get their news and views from state-run media. And for whom the information window is steadily shrinking.
Olivia Ward covered the former Soviet Union as a bureau chief and correspondent from 1992-2002.