After Russian coal mine disaster, questions about TV censorship
Miner protests forced the government to grapple with a Russian coal mine disaster in western Siberia, say critics. But the protests were ignored by the country's dominant government-owned and government-linked TV networks.
Criticism of Russia's three big state-guided TV networks is swelling over their alleged failure to offer objective coverage of one of Russia's coal mine disaster earlier this month. Largely ignored were miners' protests put down by riot police and complaints by survivors of poor pay, arduous working conditions, and lax safety standards.Skip to next paragraph
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The twin methane explosions that virtually destroyed Russia's largest coal mine two weeks ago in western Siberia were were among the country's worst mining tragedies and killed at least 67, with 23 still missing.
Most Russians learned about the accident at the Raspadskaya mine from one of the three big nationwide TV channels, all of which are either state-run or controlled by Kremlin-friendly business interests. A week later, viewers saw Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hold a familiarly theatrical press conference to reprimand local officials and urge Raspadskaya's director to resign -- which he immediately did.
But only those Russians with an Internet connection or access to the dwindling number of independent newspapers really knew what had brought Mr. Putin to Mezhdurechensk, the grim Siberian mining town where the tragedy occurred: On the night of May 15 at least 300 miners and supporters in Mezhdurechensk blocked a key railway line to protest what they called an inadequate and uncaring response to the tragedy by the government.
When riot police moved in, protesters began throwing stones and bottles. At least 28 protesters were arrested. Regional governor Aman Tuleyev blamed "drunk young people" for stirring up trouble while Mezhdurechensk mayor Sergei Shcherbakov said more railway closures wouldn't be tolerated.
Raspadskaya miner Sergei Krasilnikov, reached by telephone in Mezhdurechensk on Tuesday, says locals are bitter about the lack of coverage in the national media. "It suits the authorities to hush things up, and wait for passions to calm down," Mr. Krasilnikov says. "But [the protests] began precisely because there was no information about the accident.... No one knew what was actually going on. Neither the president nor the prime minister reacted at first. No day of mourning was declared. It seemed to us that when we die, nobody cares."
National TV blindfolded
Many analysts say the protests finally spurred the Kremlin to act, but neither the rallies nor the miners' allegations of negligence by the mine owners ever made it on national TV.