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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

RTR Cancels TV Show That Dug Dirt on Politics

A controversial weekly television show famous for its scandalous political exposes was silenced this week when the state-run RTR television network pulled it off the air.

"Sovershenno Sekretno," or Top Secret, has been suspended, RTR officials confirmed Wednesday, justifying the decision by calling for an end to political mudslinging on the air.

"We've made a decision to take the show off the air because we cannot run an uncontrollable program," said Mikhail Shvydkoi, chairman of VGTRK, the state-owned corporation that owns RTR. "The state-run channel is not an appropriate venue for politicians to pour dirt on each other and be dirtied themselves."

But the creators of Top Secret - which aired for the last time on Sunday - say the move was made as part of a general house-cleaning in preparation for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

Artyom Borovik, president of Sovershenno Sekretno Holding, said the RTR management is frantically trying to invent an explanation for banning the show. The real reason, he says, is to clear the channel of unfavorable political shows.

"What they call kompromat [compromising material], we call journalistic investigation," Borovik said, referring to Shvydkoi's plans to ban mudslinging.

"A cleansing of the media is under way on the eve of the election campaign," Borovik said in a telephone interview. "With presidential elections approaching, they plan to use similar schemes to the ones used in 1996 and do not want them to be revealed."

Television coverage was less than objective in the weeks leading up to the 1996 presidential election, when networks supported the incumbent, Boris Yeltsin, and virtually ignored his main rival, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.

"Sovershenno Sekretno," the network's second-oldest program after its newscast "Vesti," had been running for nearly eight years by the time it was canceled Sunday.

The show's authors were responsible for several scandalous reports, including its recent documentary investigating Natsionalny Rezervny Bank. The show reported the bank was allegedly involved in laundering money for Yeltsin's 1996 campaign.

"I'm tired of apologizing before different politicians," said Shvydkoi, adding that two weeks ago he had to write a letter of apology to the parents of slain Duma Deputy Galina Staro-voitova for a "Sovershenno Sekretno" program suggesting the liberal legislator may have been killed for her financial dealings.

Despite Shvydkoi's professed preference for a clean channel, RTR had no problems airing an explicit tape featuring Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov in the company of two prostitutes. He denied the decision was inappropriate, saying the channel - the only one to air the tape - only showed what "everybody knew anyway."

Borovik also suspects the program's affiliated publication, also called Sovershenno Sekretno, may have been a reason for pulling the plug on the much milder television show. The newspaper's regular menu of scandalous exposes of Russian politicians and corrupt governmental officials is less than popular with the Kremlin.

In 1997, for example, the weekly broke the scandal involving former Justice Minister Valentin Kovalyov, publishing a series of photos of Kovalyov frolicking with nude women in a sauna.

And last month the tabloid published information about the personal Swiss banks accounts of Pavel Borodin, head of the Kremlin's properties department, and the alleged misappropriation of budgetary funds.

The government would probably like to close the newspaper as well, Borovik said, but it is harder to revoke a newspaper license than it is to shut down a television show. He does not rule out, however, that the newspaper will be the target of high-level harassment.

"I think financial checks may follow soon," Borovik said.