Could the Kremlin censor an entertainment programme on live TV? According to Russian bloggers, that's exactly what happened on one of the country's national television channels.
The programme, "Phenomenon," aired on the state-run Rossiya channel on Sept. 5. In the live broadcast, Russian magician and self-styled psychic Alexander Char played a version of the children's game Cluedo, telling the audience that the details of a murder were in a safe. Then he asked three audience members to name first a weapon, then a place, then the person who committed the crime.
The first guinea pig in the audience chose a knife, the second, Munich, and third, after much hesitation... "Putin." An assistant wrote the details on a board: Putin, in Munich, with a knife. The scenario apparently didn't please the show's producers, and a man in a suit, wearing a headset, rushes onto the stage to tell the psychic to remove the name from the list. But it can't be done, spluttered the presenter, there's nothing to rub it out with. What follows is an extraordinary scene, with the man in the suit barking orders from offstage while the presenters try to explain themselves, until the name Putin is removed by the nervous-looking assistant and replaced with simply "Vladimir".
The scene seems as if it could have been staged: the man in the suit makes such a dramatic entry, and his microphone is open to the audience. That was our team's first reaction when they saw the video sent by our Russian observers. However many Russian journalists we spoke to confrimed that the scene was broadcast on Russian TV. So we decided to go ahead and publish this video, fully understanding how unlikely or unbelievable this incident is. Our Russian observers also told us that Russian television networks are all controlled by the authorities.
UPDATE (12 September 2008 - 2pm): Following some further research and comments posted on this piece, we can confirm that the man who intervenes onstage is a co-presenter. That explains why he has a microphone. It looks like a case of auto-censoring on the part of the co-presenter.
We additionally found out that the show was also aired in eastern Russia, later then the live version in Moscow. In that show, the scene in question had disappeared - something else that seems to support the idea that the censorship was live.
The subtitles were added by France 24. That's why the France 24 logo appears on the video. The subtitles begin at 00:30.