ST. PETERSBURG, January 29 (RIA Novosti) – Lawmakers in St. Petersburg on Wednesday demanded authorities consider closing a television channel that caused outrage by holding a poll asking viewers if Leningrad should have been surrendered to the Nazis.
Leningrad, which is now named St. Petersburg, lost up to 1.5 million people while under siege during World War II.
The liberal-leaning Dozhd television channel, which is vocal in its criticism of the government and is available online and via some cable providers, asked in an online poll earlier this week whether the city should have been surrendered “to save hundreds of thousands of lives.”
In a resolution backed by 34 of St. Petersburg legislature’s 50 deputies, Prosecutor General Yury Chaika is requested to “conduct an investigation into provocative material posted on the website of the Dozhd television channel … and, if just cause is found, take appropriate measures, including shutting down the channel.”
The statement reflects the opinions of many Russian officials. The Communist Party has also urged the prosecutor general to take action, as has the head of the Cable Television Association, who suggested making Dozhd unavailable to cable television viewers.
Independent media has for more than a decade been subject to pressure from the authorities eager to keep a tight limit on critical reporting.
Shortly after Vladimir Putin ascended to the presidency at the end of 1999, independent television station NTV, which had distinguished itself for its pungent attacks on the government, was targeted by tax investigations. The channel eventually came under control of state gas company Gazprom.
Many journalists from NTV migrated to a smaller channel owned by avowed Kremlin foe and businessman Boris Berezovsky, only for it to be shut down in 2002.
At least one St. Petersburg cable television provider, ER-Telecom Holding, said Wednesday that Dozhd was no longer to be made available to subscribers.
The media freedom commission of the Presidential Council on Human Rights spoke in the station’s defense Wednesday, saying Dozhd should not be kicked out of cable television because “such proposals stand in stark contrast to the interests of viewers.”
Following a flood of angry messages, the channel hastily took down its Leningrad siege poll on Monday and said on Twitter that the incident was “a mistake by the producer … and the social network editor.”
A screenshot of the poll made available on Twitter showed 54 percent supporting the would-be surrender of Leningrad. The number of respondents was not specified.
The poll was held to coincide with the imminent celebration of the 75th anniversary of the lifting of the Leningrad siege, which took place Monday.
Still, Dozhd has struck a defiant note, saying in a statement on its website Wednesday that it rejected any suggestion that it lacked patriotism.
“We don’t want the sense of ‘patriotism’ to be monopolized. We do not want it to be confused with loyalty to the authorities,” the statement said. “The more you love your country, the more you worry for it.”
The Dozhd incident has also triggered renewed talk of criminalizing the questioning of the Soviet Union’s role in the war.
The Great Patriotic War, as World War II is known in Russia, plays a crucial role in state ideology, which credits Soviet forces with defeating Axis powers through an unprecedented popular effort.
The Soviet Union lost up to 27 million lives over the course of the war.