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Russia: Duma Extends Its Influence On Media

Russia's Duma in session (file photo) (AFP) The Russian State Duma adopted an appeal on 2 November that calls on the heads of national television channels and networks to avoid broadcasting programs that portray "violence and cruelty."

The resolution, which was initiated by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia faction, passed by a vote of 417-1.

The document accuses the country's nationwide broadcasters of "damaging public morals," and demands that they take steps "to prevent the spread of information and material of a manifestly cynical and assaulting nature, and which propagate a cult of violence and cruelty," RIA-Novosti reported.

The resolution was authored by First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia), who accused the managers of nationwide channels of violating the agreement on self-censorship they signed this summer with the heads of Duma factions. The resolution also criticizes the Federal Agency On Monitoring Legislation in Mass Media for failing to uphold the agreement, known as the "Charter Against Violence And Cruelty On TV."

The charter was signed on 7 June by the heads of Channel One, RTR, NTV, TV-Tsentr, REN-TV, and STS. The Kremlin-backed initiative called on broadcasters to "voluntarily" refrain from airing "extremists' calls, pornography, and violence."

Sliska told journalists on 1 November that broadcasters have failed to abide by the obligations they agreed to in the charter, and as a result the Duma is prepared to take measures against them -- including possible restrictions of broadcasting. Sliska added that she was particularly outraged by an investigative report about cannibalism that was aired by NTV on 30 October. "We reserve for the Duma the right to review in 2006 the law on mass media and the law on advertising," and to "impose limits" aimed at restricting such broadcasts, reported.

No More Sex Or Violence, Please

Although Sliska cited the cannibalism documentary as "the last straw" that led her to pen the appeal, recent history shows that the initiative is part of a much broader and long-developed Kremlin plan. For example, in the weeks leading up to the resolution, the Duma Culture Committee headed by Iosef Kobson (Unified Russia) conducted hearings under the telling title "Legislative Regulation Of Cultural And Moral Values In The Mass Media," "Vremya novostei " and other Russian media reported 21 October.

Participants in the hearings reportedly appealed to the government "to cleanse the Russian media and cinema of sex, violence, and foreign productions." The Culture Committee subsequently adopted "recommendations" that the government allocate funds to support patriotic broadcasting and that it resume debate on a bill on banning pornography that was vetoed in 1999 by then-President Boris Yeltsin. Participants in the hearings also reportedly expressed their hope that the situation regarding the media will be addressed when the newly formed Public Chamber begins functioning in December. The chamber, which has been described as a consultative body, is expected to mediate between the media and society.

The mention of the Public Chamber is a good indicator that behind both Kobson's and Sliska's initiatives stand the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin himself. Putin repeatedly advanced the idea that the Public Chamber should be a collection of public-opinion leaders selected in part by him personally, and that they should have an interest in increasing the public's control over the media. He reiterated this in an interview given to the Dutch media on 31 October in which he said that "we are organizing a Public Chamber that will think about, care for, and support the independent mass media," reported.

Putin's increased care for the media has been well-documented since the Duma's adoption five years ago of the "Doctrine Of National Information Security." That document paved the way for tighter control of independent media. With that development in mind, the latest Duma initiatives raise concerns that, with Russia's major broadcasters already under the Kremlin's influence, it will now seek to transform them purely into propaganda outlets.

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