Years ago, Soviet news agencies grew to be experts in removing unwanted comrades from official photographs. People disappeared in the developing rooms just as they disappeared in real life, and early group photos with Stalin often contracted into a picture of the Soviet dictator standing alone. That grim history makes what’s happening today on Russia’s national television networks all the more chilling. As Clifford Levy wrote in The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune last week, Russia’s national networks are routinely deleting news or opinions critical of the Kremlin. In one notable case, Mikhail Delyagin, a political analyst, criticised Vladimir Putin during the taping of a talk show. When the programme aired, most of Delyagin was missing. Only his disembodied legs remained in the picture.

A troubling aspect of this slide toward those dark old days is that many Russians insist they are fine with government-controlled TV. In the Web commentary after Levy’s article appeared online, quite a few Russians said a free press is unnecessary. One called the idea “American propaganda.” The American media have their flaws, but at least if

you don’t like one particular television channel, another offers a different view. For Russians, there is no such relief. — International Herald Tribune