Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned what it called "the growing trend" of major Russian television channels playing down or even ignoring bad news.
A deadly fire at a shopping center in the Siberian city of Kemerovo on March 25 "was left uncovered for half a day while other dramatic events in recent months have been played down," the Paris-based media watchdog said in a statement on April 3.
Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin’s activities "get systematic coverage," RSF said. It called on Russian authorities to guarantee the absence of state interference in media outlets' editorial policies.
The fire in Kemerovo killed 64 people, including dozens of children.
Some privately owned Russian media outlets began live coverage from the scene "as early as midday," RSF said, apparently referring to Moscow time. The fire broke out in the late afternoon in Kemerovo, which is four hours ahead of Moscow.
However, the three leading TV networks "did not report it until their evening news programs and then only gave it brief mention after long reports about the results of the previous week’s presidential election" in which Putin won another term.
Russia’s major TV channels include state-run Pervy Kanal and Rossiya 1, as well as NTV, which is controlled by state-owned natural-gas giant Gazprom.
"By saying nothing about the fire for so long, the state-controlled TV channels were partly to blame," said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
RSF said deadly school attacks in the Russian cities of Perm and Ulan-Ude in January were among the "negative" events in recent months that the main, Moscow-based "federal" TV networks have covered only partially or belatedly or have ignored altogether.
"Dissimulation of bad news is consistent with the Russian government’s media policies, of which the federal TV networks are the main tool," the nongovernmental organization added.
It said that "self-censorship is the rule" at these TV networks, whose executives are "often summoned for briefings" at the Kremlin.
Russia ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.