Church-Theme TV Channel to Search for Souls Nationwide - Paper
MOSCOW, July 8 (RIA Novosti) – A Russian satellite TV channel devoted to
Orthodox Christianity plans to go national to promote its conservative
agenda, as part of a Kremlin push to counter the liberal opposition and
bolster Russia’s traditional institutions, a Russian daily reported Monday.
Launched in 2005, Spas (Savior) TV has been endorsed by the increasingly
powerful Russian Orthodox Church and claims to have an audience of about
10 million households in Russia. But the channel has widely been
criticized for its unexciting programming and recycling of old shows.
Funded from donations from Orthodox businessmen, it features talk shows
and educational programs that have often lambasted Darwinism and
maintained that Russia is part of an “Orthodox civilization” that does
not need such Western affectations as liberal democracy, feminism and
The channel has filed an application with Roskomnadzor, the government
body that distributes television frequencies, to become part of a
nationwide set of digital television channels, the Kommersant daily
reported Monday. Spas TV will be reformatted technologically and
thematically to attract a wider audience, the channel’s director general
Boris Kostenko told the paper.
The channel will feature “daily shows with discussions aimed at young,
thinking, soul-searching people,” Kostenko was quoted as saying.
Following massive opposition protests against Vladimir Putin’s return to
the Kremlin for a third presidency last May, the Kremlin has introduced
a string of laws aimed at controlling the Internet, introduced penalties
for offending religious believers and increased the penalties for
religious groups promoting “extremist” ideas.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which has described Putin as a “God-given”
leader, has become one of the most ardent supporters of the government’s
drive for control of the nation’s consciousness, with unswerving support
for even the most unpopular government initiatives.
The Church was widely seen as a driving force behind the prosecution of
the feminist Pussy Riot band whose unauthorized, anti-Putin “punk
prayer” at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral last February. The stunt
was followed by an internationally condemned trial that sentenced three
band members to two years in jail. An Orthodox priest who condemned the
trial was defrocked last August and fled Russia.
The decision to promote a television channel is an atypical departure
for the Church, which has not traditionally embraced technological
innovation. Last month, Moscow Patriarch Kirill said monks should avoid
the “sinful and tempting” Internet.
An outspoken cleric said that the decision to promote Spas TV is not
political and the new audience may help the channel overcome its
"chronic" financial problems.
"This is a normal evolution of an electronic mass medium," Deacon Andrei
Kuraev, a professor at the Orthodox Church's Spiritual Academy, told RIA
Novosti. "Hopefully, it will help the channel get rid of its chronic
financial starvation and come up with new content."
But a dissident cleric and former lawmaker said that the plans signify
the church's failure to attract young Russians.
"This is a sign of the Church’s failure to influence modern youth that
wants freedom of religion, freedom of choice – and freedom to the
outstanding young women from Pussy Riot,” Father Gleb Yakunin told RIA
The plans to reformat the programming are nothing but “pitiful attempts
and wasted money,” he said. “Nothing good and kind will come out of it.”
The Church excommunicated Yakunin in 1997 after he headed a government
commission that concluded that most top clerics, including late
Patriarch Alexy II and his successor, Patriarch Kirill, were KGB informers.
Oppressed and purged by the officially atheist Soviet government, since
the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the Moscow Patriarchate has
grown into the world’s largest Orthodox church and now claims to have
three-quarters of Russia’s 142 million in its flock – along with
millions in former Soviet states.
But independent polls show that only a fraction of Russians are regular
church-goers and Bible-readers, while an overwhelming majority of
self-described Orthodox believers are unfamiliar with the tenets of
Christianity and ignore church rites such as confession and fasting.