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Fallout Over Flat-Earth Theory Hits Russia's 'Emmy' TV Awards


“So what is the actual truth?”
“So what is the actual truth?”

The Emmy Awards stirred controversy last month with politically charged speeches and comedy routines, many targeting U.S. President Donald Trump.

In Russia, meanwhile, that country’s analogous awards show has triggered ridicule and outrage after its trophy for best “educational program” was handed to the host of a recent show giving credence to the theory that the Earth is flat.

Igor Prokopenko, a television host with the national REN-TV network, accepted the honor at the October 3 TEFI awards ceremony in Moscow for his show Military Secrets. But it was another of his productions -- The Most Shocking Hypotheses -- that prompted widespread mockery and hand-wringing.

That program’s episode last week -- titled But The Earth Is Flat! -- delivered a 45-minute exploration of the Flat-Earth Theory, featuring dramatic music and interviews with purported “experts” purveying the preposterous claim:

“So what is the actual truth?” a narrator asks at the end of the program.

The program itself was widely lampooned after it aired.

“It seems there has never been fake news like this. (Spoiler: the Earth is round),” the Russian news portal Meduza wrote on Facebook.

But the criticism of what many suggested was evidence of Russia’s intellectual degradation intensified after Prokopenko accepted his TEFI.

Political analyst and former Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovsky noted on Facebook that the award was given on the same day that three U.S. scientists won the Nobel Prize in physics for their discovery of gravitational waves.

A member of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navlany’s campaign team noted on Twitter that the award came one day before the 60th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s launch of the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into the Earth’s orbit.

“Forgive us, Sputnik 1, we’ve pissed everything away,” the tweet said.

Another Twitter user posted an image of Soviet cosmonaut Yury Gagarin, the first human in orbit, smiling as he holds a telephone. The caption reads: “Hi, future generation! How are you there in 2017? Are you flying to Mars?” In a subsequent image, Gagarin’s smile has relaxed, and the caption reads: “Who is flat?”

The independent network TV Rain posted a short Facebook teaser about the news of Prokopenko’s victory: “No, it’s not a joke.”

For his part, Prokopenko has said that his programs aren’t “educational” in nature but rather an attempt to give viewers a chance to exercise their “constitutional right” to “any information,” including “the fantastical and humorous.”

Accepting the award on October 3, he suggested his shows are aimed at boosting the ratings of educational programming.

“And that’s why, at times, the Earth is flat,” he said.

The TEFI awards also faced criticism for honoring state media boss and TV presenter Dmitry Kiselyov for his weekly political and news analysis show Vesti Nedeli.

Kiselyov, who is under EU sanctions as a “central figure of the government propaganda supporting the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine,” regularly delivers anti-Western pronouncements and is accused by critics of distorting facts and pushing baseless conspiracy theories.

In an October 4 post on his website, prominent Russian journalist and television host Vladimir Pozner called on the TEFI organizers to rename the award and cease handing out the trophy, which was designed by sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, who died last year.

The award was founded in 1994 by the Russian Television Academy, which Pozner headed at the time. Pozner said in his open letter that Neizvestny agreed to design the trophy on the condition that its recipients are selected in a "democratic vote."

Pozner said that this year’s awards were not voted on in a democratic fashion and suggested a potential legal fight over the name TEFI and the trophy design if the organizers of the awards ceremony decline his request.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.