MOSCOW – A Russian TV channel cut a segment of the ribald U.S. cartoon comedy "South Park" that appeared to mock Vladimir Putin, a spokesman said Friday.
The channel "2X2" cut material from the show that aired Tuesday portraying Putin as a greedy and desperate leader, the network's spokesman said. The decision prompted criticism and furious discussion on Russia blogs.
It was unclear whether the decision, involving an episode that originally aired in the United States in 2005, was made by channel executives or regulators.
Asked about the Putin scene being cut, channel spokesman Andrei Andreyev told The Associated Press by e-mail that: "the given scene in this version was absent."
Andreyev said it was the third time the edited version of the episode had been shown this year. He declined to comment on the reason for the censorship.
A spokesman with Russia's broadcast regulator, Rosskomnadzor, said he knew nothing of the incident.
"We have never interfered with editorial decisions," Yevgeny Strelchik said.
The Soviet collapse loosened the reins on news and information, and open mocking of government officials — Kremlin or otherwise — was popular in the 1990s. Under Putin's presidency, however, there's been a noticeable shift away from biting satire.
The channel NTV was forced to pull its satirical puppet show "Kukly" in 2002 after the Kremlin objected to the excessive lampooning of Putin.
Putin, who is now prime minister, has been instrumental in returning economic stability to Russia but critics say that his methods, which leave little room for public dissent, border on authoritarian.
Internet publications and blogs are among the last outlets for unfettered commentary and satire in Russian, and commentators on Russia's most popular blogging service, Live Journal, vented their anger after news of the "South Park" censorship leaked out.
Oleg Kuvaev, a blogger and online animated filmmaker, said on his Web site that the decision would only attract more attention to the channel.
"It's stupid to cut things this way," he wrote, because it attracts more attention to the scene in question.