Moscow (AFP) - Russian television on Thursday cancelled the results of a popular children's talent show after an investigation confirmed rigging of phone votes.
Channel One announced that "there was outside influence on the voting that affected the result" of its show "The Voice Kids", after the probe found thousands of calls and text messages from phones that have since been disconnected.
The finding is an embarrassment for a state-controlled national channel that airs numerous franchised shows and regularly broadcasts the Eurovision Song Contest.
The final of the Russian show prompted controversy last month after the daughter of a pop star won a landslide victory with a performance many commentators called weaker than that of the other two finalists.
The winner, Mikella Abramova is the 11-year-old daughter of former Eurovision Song Contest entrant Alsou. She won 56.5 percent of a final vote via phone and text messages.
Abramova's victory prompted resentment from some commentators and suggestions that her mother's social media posts influenced the result.
Channel One said preliminary results of the probe by Group-IB, an international company specialising in hi-tech crimes and online fraud, were sufficient to "annul the results of the final of the sixth season of the show".
It stressed it was not accusing any child but said it would tighten up voting procedures and hold a rerun of the final this month.
The Voice Kids is a format developed by Dutch company Talpa Media as the children's version of "The Voice" talent contest.
Group-IB said it found a large number of SMS votes cast for one candidate, without saying which one.
More than 8,000 text messages were sent from some 300 numbers, with the same operator and in the same region.
All the phones have since been disconnected.
Bots were apparently used to make over 30,000 calls from consecutive numbers.
Channel One's move prompted ironic praise from former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin now living in Britain after 10 years in jail.
"I'd like to hear similar exposes on Channel One" of electoral fraud, he said.
"We've learnt there are no fair elections in Russia. None at all," wrote popular blogger StalinGulag.