Russia starts moral crusade against media

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The Independent Online

The Russian parliament has embarked upon a moral crusade to eradicate graphic scenes of sex and violence from the country's television screens, prompting fears of a return of Soviet-style censorship.

The Russian parliament has embarked upon a moral crusade to eradicate graphic scenes of sex and violence from the country's television screens, prompting fears of a return of Soviet-style censorship.

Alarmed that Russia's youth is being corrupted and brutalised by an endless diet of violence and hardcore erotica, deputies have voted to ban such images from 7am till 10pm.

In its present form, the ban would cover news programmes, feature films and documentaries and would prevent the factual or fictional representation of corpses, acts of murder, physical violence, acts that result "in harm to a person's well-being", rape or other violent acts of a sexual nature. Deputies in the Duma appear determined to take action, although the government, industry regulators and President Vladimir Putin believe self-regulation is the way forward.

In the first of three readings, 420 MPs backed the new Bill. Andrey Skoch, an MP from Mr Putin's United Russia party, is behind the new legislation. He says the aim is to protect children from extreme images which have proliferated since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russian viewers are routinely treated to ultra-violent TV series or feature films about the country's criminal underworld, documentaries and news programmes which think nothing of broadcasting images of mutilated and bomb-blasted corpses, and Crimewatch-style shows which hold nothing back.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Aleksey II, has demanded radical changes. "An hour scarcely passes on our TV screens today without rivers of human blood being split," he said. "It's as if they are trying to convince us that human life is worthless."

The older generation, which grew up on ultra-conservative Soviet TV, strictly censored and sanitised, has long demanded action, and Russia's newest generation of patriotic politicians say they are eager to "restore order" and clean up the nation's morals. Boris Gryzlov, the Duma Speaker, said; "In the pursuit of ratings and commercial success [TV stations] have forgotten about their enormous educational role for the next generation of Russians."

Deputies have been particularly unhappy about coverage of Chechen separatist-inspired acts of terror which the Russian media has a tendency to show in all their gory detail. Months ago, one MP tried and failed to impose a blanket ban on the live TV coverage of domestic terror acts, saying in situations such as the Beslan school siege the media was in effect disseminating "terrorist propaganda".

Nationalist MPs such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky say the new Bill is just what is needed. "We cannot make TV sterile but we can at least keep some cruelty off the screen at peak times," he said.

But the heads of Russia's predominantly state-controlled TV stations have warned that the Bill borders on the absurd and risks ruining news reports, preventing the broadcast of classic Russian and foreign films and even cartoons. They have formed a working group hoping to persuade MPs to water down the legislation.

Vladimir Kulistikov, head of NTV, told the daily, Kommersant: "There is no doubt such a problem exists but do we really want to solve it using absurd means? If we follow the logic of this Bill, films about the Great Patriotic War [Second World War ] would be banned, as would War and Peace."

He said truthful reporting of terror acts, criminal activity and disasters would be seriously impeded, and that, he added, equated to "the dissemination of deliberately false information about these very important events".

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