Many social media users in Russia expressed anger at the Russian Kremlin TV channels coverage of Sunday’s shopping center fire in Kemerovo.
The fire broke out on Sunday, March 25, on the weekend when newscasts are aired less frequently. Most programs on Sundays are entertainment shows.
Regardless, neither Channel One, nor “Rossiya-1,” the two main government TV channels, covered the story as “breaking news” or with reporters live on the scene.
A victim of the fire, Igor Vostrikov, who lost his sister, wife and three small children ages 7, 5, and 2 in the fire, said in a local Facebook post that was picked up by social media and news outlets:
“I’ve been watching news all day today and the fact that people were locked in the movie theater and that everyone knows about it (is) because I went to the rescue HQ yesterday. There was a ballroom full of people and everyone lost their family members not at the children’s playroom like it’s been reported in the news, but in the movie theater."
Channel One dedicated three minutes 37 seconds to the Kemerovo fire in the file of its 9 p.m. broadcast on March 25 uploaded now to its website.
"Rossiya-1” also covered the disaster, spending a total of 13 minutes reporting on the fire in its late-night show “Sunday Night with Vladimir Soloviev.”
NTV, another Kremlin-sponsored media organization and the only nationwide Russian TV channel with a scheduled Sunday afternoon news program, spent two minutes in its broadcast on the fire, one minute in the 4 p.m. newscast, and another minute in the 6 p.m. news, says a fact-checking service of TV Rain that covered the same topic extensively.
RFE quotes the Russian-language news site Meduza, which pointed out that “Rossiya-24” featured nearly nonstop coverage from the Siberian mall, with its first report coming at 2 p.m., Moscow time, as reports emerged of casualties from the blaze.
At the time of this article's publication, media reports put the death toll at 64.
‘End of the week’ newscasts on Channel One and “Rossiya-1” downplayed the mall fire. The first segments of two shows were synchronized, dominated by President Vladimir Putin’s election victory the previous week and other geopolitical news.
Facebook users posted complaints on March 25, referring to past disasters, to “government supervised” news shows and children trapped in a shopping mall theater.
Gevorkyan: “...“Kursk...was the main piece of news (at the time)... Kemerovo (Sunday)...after other reports...”
Eggert: “...It's completely government-supervised...”
Alexandrova-Zorina: “...there are a lot of children who burned and died from the smoke in the movie theater..."
The Russian government defended its response, President Vladimir Putin meeting with shopping mall victims’ relatives. He promised a “transparent” investigation but was dismissive of social media criticism.
“This is sheer nonsense," Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted in TASS.
"When the first reports appeared no one could have anticipated that this tragedy would be so enormous. However, when the horrible scale of this tragedy became clear - I watched TV news reports yesterday, that said, Sundays tend to be a slow news day - I saw materials about it,” Peskov added.
Still, TV critic Yuri Bogomolov said the federal media channels were “lying with half-truths,” in his criticism the day after the disaster.
“It is true that last night people received information but not on TV, on the radio,” Bogomolov said. “At first the sources were saying that things were okay. Then it came up that someone had died. Then, they said that not a single child died and that just some child was unconscious but he received help.”
Bogomolov said the TV channels updated with the growing death toll but he said “Weekly News” host Dmitry Kiselev ” mentioned the event on air and immediately moved to Theresa May” and the spy poisoning scandal.
Journalist Arina Borodina, a Russian journalist and a TV critic, suggested government coordination.
“It is fairly difficult for the TV channels to make that decision on their own,” she told Radio Svoboda. “It doesn’t mean that it justifies them. But look at how synchronized the coverage of two main channels was that evening. I may be wrong, but I think that this is approved coverage.”