Pre-Election Putin Propaganda Put On Pause

The re-broadcast of Oliver Stone’s documentary “The Putin Interviews” was canceled by Russia’s Channel One after complaints it violated election law were filed by Putin’s opponents.

Two of Putin’s seven registered opponents, Ksenia Sobchak and Emilia Slabunova, submitted complaints to Russia’s Central Elections Committee after Channel One began broadcasting the four-part series on February 12. They argued that Channel One was violating election law by showing the program five days before the law allows election propaganda in the mass media. According to this law, the “agitation” period would be from February 19 to March 17, 2018.

“Election propaganda includes the dissemination of information on the activities of a candidate who is not related to his professional activities or his performance of his official duties,” reported RIA Novosti.

The series, according to Sobchak and Slabunova, is problematic because it focuses not on Putin’s politics, but on his biography and personality. Though the broadcast is said by Meduza to promote Putin and his candidacy, the current Russian President is not funding it through his campaign. Russia’s Channel One, however, is funded by the government.

“The Putin Interviews,” written and directed by American filmmaker Oliver Stone, is described by Showtime as providing “intimate insight into Putin’s personal and professional lives, from his childhood under communism, to his rise to power, his relations with four U.S. presidents, and his surprising takes on U.S.-Russian relations today.” Information regarding Putin’s childhood and personal life falls under the definition of election propaganda under Russian law as provided by RIA Novosti.

The compilation of Stone’s several interviews of Putin that took place over two years originally aired on the Showtime network from June 12-15, 2017. A common criticism of the series claims that Stone was too soft on Putin, not challenging him with hard-hitting questions about the Russian President’s controversial policies and actions.

Stone is not a stranger to controversy, he espoused praise for leaders like Putin and Hugo Chavez and released documentaries profiling them. He also called Hitler an easily and cheaply-used “scapegoat.”

Stone’s son, Sean Stone, works for RT America, a Washington, D.C.-based television channel that is part of the RT Network and funded by the Russian government. This is not, however, the channel that was slated to rebroadcast “The Putin Interviews” earlier this month–but RT has registered as a foreign agent in the United States.

Ella Pamfilova, the Commissioner of the Central Elections Committee, said that the broadcast of “The Putin Interviews” did not violate election communications law because “the film does not contain calls to vote for or against the candidate, does not express any preference for the candidate, does not contain a description of the possible consequences of election or non-election of the candidate.” However, Pamfilova also stated that the network should act with “due diligence” as other networks do when broadcasting media involving a public official or candidate around election time.

Channel One’s official response acknowledged that the broadcast was not a violation, but decided to “heed the opinion of the CEC” and cancel the screening of the fourth part of the documentary, succumbing to Sobchak and Slabunova’s complaints.

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