Russia pulls plug on 'last independent TV show'

MOSCOW (AFP) - A programme seen as Russia's last independent show on mainstream television has been taken off the air amid an upsurge in anti-Western rhetoric, in a move condemned by Kremlin critics.

Ren TV's weekly analytical programme hosted by one of Russia's best known anchors, Marianna Maximovskaya, has been abruptly cancelled, said journalists on the show launched in 2003.

"The programme has been cancelled by the management of the channel," one of the journalists, Roman Super, told AFP.

"Staff had not expected this and learnt about this together with everyone one else yesterday. What will happen next we - employees on the show - do not know," he said in written comments.

"The reasons for shutting down the programme are so obvious that they do not need to be commented upon." Another staffer, Elena Vorotilova, simply wrote on Facebook: "Looking for a job." The channel, which describes the show "as the bravest programme", was not available for comment on Saturday.

All major television channels in Russia are state-controlled and closely toe the Kremlin line.

Ren TV is the country's last nationwide TV network with largely independent news programming, and the analytical show "Nedelya with Marianna Maximovskaya" (Week with Marianna Maximovskaya) was seen as one of the channel's gems.

Among colleagues Maximovskaya, 44, has long been seen as the odd one out, regularly interviewing Kremlin critics including former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whom she spoke to in Berlin upon his sudden release from a Russian prison late last year.

Together with Internet TV channel Dozhd, the Echo of Moscow radio station and a handful of newspapers, Ren TV has been seen as a safety valve giving Kremlin critics an opportunity to vent their frustration with the authorities.

Critics say that since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis Russian national television has adopted feverishly pro-Kremlin, anti-Western rhetoric at the expense of all alternative views.

Experts said that in the current atmosphere there was simply no room for Maximovskaya's nuanced, sophisticated approach to news reporting.

"It was an island amid programming which was doing what television is supposed to do," media expert Galina Timchenko told AFP.

"It was the last programme that people watched to learn what has happened over the past week to avoid being poisoned by Rossia TV or Channel One," she said, referring to top state-controlled channels.

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