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Media law criticized

Russian media companies are dealing with a new law aimed at protecting children from harmful content.

The legislation came into effect on Sept. 1, and requires media organizations to give age-appropriate ratings for products.


The 18+ category, for example, is defined as including content that incites people to violence, justifies delinquent behavior, promotes smoking, using drugs or alcohol, gambling, or engaging in prostitution, questions family values and respect for parents, and features obscene language or pornography. The law stipulates that media outlets found to be in violation of the law can be fined up to 50,000 rubles ($1,535) – a small amount. But repeat offenders are threatened with the termination of their license for up to 90 days.

“Some topics can’t be covered at all if you follow the law to the letter,” Marina Davydova, executive director of the Russian Guild of Press Publishers, told The Moscow News. “So far, no one can explain how the law will be applied. There are no guidelines on how to tag content, we don’t understand what penalties will follow and for what.”

“Special requirements have been set forth for printed editions circulated in places easily accessible for children,” Olesya Demidova, a member of the Media Lawyers Collegium, told The Moscow News. “If a publication contains information inappropriate for children under 18, this information may not be published on the cover, the first and last pages, and the publication should be in sealed packaging.”

TV and radio companies have had to revise their listings to comply with the law. Rossiya channel shifted a classic Soviet cartoon series about a wolf chasing a hare “Nu, Pogodi!” (“Just you wait!”) to the 11 p.m. slot, since many scenes feature the wolf character smoking cigarettes.

The Russian National Association of TV and Radio Broadcasters had earlier sent an open letter to the State Duma pointing out that the law “will prohibit children from watching [films and programs about] Tom Sawyer and Sherlock Holmes as they can be deemed as promoting a transient lifestyle and smoking [respectively].”

Natalia Piskunova, the Association’s Director General, said that authorities met the broadcasters halfway, taking into account a large part of their suggestions. “[The Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecoms, Information Technologies and Mass Communications] agreed that if a TV product contains scenes that children shouldn’t see, such as scenes of smoking, [these scenes] should be justified by the context,” Piskunova told The Moscow News. “The law does not apply to films and programs that have a high cultural value. The problem is there is no list of such films and programs.”

NTV, a federal channel with the third biggest audience in the country, notorious for its prime-time shows featuring scenes of violence and criminal dramas, has tagged many of its shows as 16+ so far.

No more ‘Adults’

While live shows do not fall under the new regulations, Ekho Moskvy radio announced last week that it is closing its weekly “To Adults about Adults” hosted by psychologist Mikhail Labkovsky, aired live for eight years. “Mikhail and I discussed the problems that the new law is causing to us and concluded that his is the only show that could get us into hot water,” Ekho’s editor-inchief, Alexei Venediktov, was quoted by as saying.

The law makes only online media outlets tag their content – as opposed to all websites. “Apparently, this law cannot influence websites that really cause harm to children’s health and development,” lawyer Olesya Demidova said.

So far, only newswires have been exempted from the law.

Internet confusion

Based on the legislation, it is unclear how media organizations should treat comments and banners on their websites. The Russian Association for Electronic Communications, members of which include RIA Novosti, Vkontakte,, and so on, has pointed out that Internet providers technically cannot moderate all the content uploaded to their platforms.

“Premoderation of content posted by users violates their constitutional rights as this virtually is censorship,” the association said in its press release stating its position on the new law.

The Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecoms, Information Technologies and Mass Communications promised to hold a series of meetings with media organizations to review the law based on their suggestions.

“This is the first time that broadcasters are having a normal dialogue with the watchdog,” said Natalia Piskunova of the Broadcasters’ Association. “It’ll take a few more months to understand what needs to be changed and how.”

The authorities are setting up an expert council that will determine whether media organizations comply with the regulations. Anyone will be able to order an evaluation of potentially adverse content for a fee. The ruling of the council can be used in a lawsuit against a company.

“The main thing is to ensure that expert evaluation is done properly to avoid persecution of the media,” said children’s rights advocate and Public Chamber member Boris Altshuler, who is one of the authors of the law. “The names of experts should not be made public so that they can’t be bribed – we all understand that they’ll have to work in a very corrupt environment.”