Russian State Television Pulls Plug on 'Leaving Neverland'

Courtesy of HBO
'Leaving Neverland'

The explosive documentary detailing allegations of child sex abuse against Michael Jackson had been due to air in two parts late Friday and Saturday.

Russian state television's main network Channel One has pulled out of airing Leaving Neverland, citing the controversy raging around the explosive documentary based on detailed allegations of child sex abuse against Michael Jackson.

The film, which opponents in Russia allege is inappropriate public TV viewing, was due to have aired after midnight local time tonight and tomorrow night. Instead, the film will be available to viewers online free of charge until Wednesday.

The late-night slot had been scheduled so that Channel One, Russia's most-watched TV network, could comply with Russian laws banning content deemed potentially harmful to minors airing earlier.

"The film's premiere at Sundance and on HBO provoked a controversial public reaction and aggression on the part of both supporters and opponents of the film," Channel One spokeswoman Larisa Krymova told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. "In this situation, Channel One made the decision to move the Russian premiere of Leaving Neverland to its website."

The decision comes after fans of the late pop superstar protested outside the London headquarters of Channel 4, which last week aired the U.K. premiere of the controversial film, and follows Jackson's estate suing HBO, which aired the doc in the U.S., for $100 million, claiming it violates a non-disparagement clause in a contract dating back to the airing of a 1992 concert special by the King of Pop on the premium cable channel.

Channel One is among a slew of international broadcasters that have picked up the documentary, although the acquisition, for a channel that does not normally broadcast foreign features or documentaries, raised many eyebrows in Russia, with social-media commentators questioning how such a film would sit with the channel's strongly pro-Kremlin position.

Russia has a long history of political homophobia. In 2013, a law against "gay propaganda among minors" was adopted, viewed by many as a tool to crack down on the gay community in general. Since the adoption of the law, screenings of films involving homosexual content have been disrupted numerous times, especially those of the LGBTQ film festival Bok o bok (Side by Side).

The gay-rights situation is especially dire in North Caucasus. In Chechnya, gays have reportedly been detained, tortured and even killed.

Leaving Neverland focuses exclusively and empathetically, on the alleged experiences of Wade Robson, 36, and James Safechuck, 40, who say they were sexually abused by the late music icon when they were boys. The men detail a pattern of behavior that initially allowed both them and their families to feel safe, followed by an escalation of sexual abuse as the boys became teenagers and a re-emergence of the experience in their lives when Jackson faced court allegations of child molestation.