MOSCOW — Russian opposition and human rights groups on Monday urged Western consumer products giants to stop "financing politically motivated persecution" by advertising on a Kremlin-friendly TV network known for its biased coverage of government critics and demonstrations against President Vladimir Putin.
In the wake of unprecedented anti-Putin protests that followed last December's rigged parliament vote and Putin's return to the Kremlin in May, NTV has run dozens of news reports, talk shows and pseudo-documentaries accusing opposition leaders of plotting coups and terrorist attacks, of receiving money from Western governments, and of hiring migrant workers and neo-Nazis to participate in anti-Putin rallies.
The broadcaster has become part of the Kremlin's "machinery for repression," the White Ribbon movement, the Resistance group, the Moscow Civil Forum and the For Human Rights group said Monday.
In a statement directed at companies such as Coca-Cola Co., Procter & Gamble Co., Nestle SA, and L'Oreal International, the four groups said: "Please consider stopping to place your company's advertising on the NTV channel because it is a way of financing politically motivated persecution."
Coca-Cola's Russian office declined to provide contact information for its spokespeople, and a P&G spokeswoman said she needed a written request. The public relations offices of L'Oreal International and Nestle were not immediately available for comment.
NTV reports have prompted several official investigations of opposition leaders and triggered at least two arrests. One of the arrested opposition activists, Leonid Razvozzhayev, claimed Russian prosecutors kidnapped him from neighboring Ukraine and tortured him for several days, forcing him to confess anti-government activities. Russian officials insisted he turned himself in.
NTV coverage also has triggered rallies at the company's Moscow headquarters, as well as tens of thousands of angry tweets and comments on social networking websites. "Shame on NTV" has become a popular protest slogan, and many Kremlin critics refuse to be interviewed by the channel's journalists.
The network was once the shining star of independent Russian television, but after Putin came to power in 2000 he orchestrated its takeover by the state-controlled gas giant Gazprom. In recent months it has been NTV, not the two state television networks, that has broadcast some of the nastiest attacks on the opposition.
In early October, NTV released "Anatomy of a Protest 2," a documentary that showed alleged hidden camera footage suggesting that Left Front leader Sergey Udaltsov met with representatives of an exiled Russian banker to discuss raising $200 million for anti-Putin protests.
The documentary, whose creators were not identified, alleged the money was used to pay hundreds of thousands of leftists and far-right nationalists to march on the Kremlin wearing identical clothes emblazoned with swastikas. It also claimed that Udaltsov conspired with officials from Georgia, a former Soviet republic now allied with the United States, to prepare terrorist attacks across Russia and usurp power in the Baltic exclave of Kalinigrad. An anonymous narrator says, "The plan of action has already been developed, its planners live abroad, and Udaltsov, according to our information, is just one of its executors."
Udaltsov – a die-hard communist who wore a Josef Stalin T-shirt to his wedding and whose party program calls for nationalizing Russian banks – called the documentary "filth and lies." The day after the show aired, Russian prosecutors ordered a probe to check its allegations.