Russia’s Communist Party has submitted a bill to the State Duma aimed at creating a Supreme Council on the Protection of Morality on state TV channels and radio stations.
The bill is awaiting consideration by lower house legislators during their last session prior to the December elections.
If approved, a specially-created body would make appraisals “or, at least, express opinions on the extent to which TV and radio broadcasts promote public morality," one of the authors of the initiative, MP Nina Ostanina, told Itar-Tass.
Under Communist rule In the USSR, the state controlled all aspects of life – including arts, literature, cinema, TV and radio – to make sure no wrong “anti-Soviet” ideas would leak into people’s minds. The idea currently proposed by the Russian Communist party, 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, has nothing to do with censorship, they assure.
"This is not meant as an instrument of censorship,” Ostanina said. In contrast to the situation in the Soviet era, the “moral assessment” would be made after rather than before a TV or radio program went on air.
“In any case, it would send a signal to conscientious producers of TV programs when broadcasts are unacceptable to public morals," the deputy added.
The bill makes no provision for any punishment or sanctions against broadcasters who regularly violate the rules of morality. The council would, however, have the right to appeal to the state leadership and a channel’s majority shareholders as well as to “urge the public to show its disapproval."
However another Communist faction deputy, Sergey Obukhov, suggested that the watchdog bodies should have far more extensive powers, including “the defining of TV channels’ program policy.”
“Every channel should have its specialization and cover particular topics,” he said in an interview with Vzglyad newspaper. Experts of the Supreme Council would make sure the state channels not only follow their editorial policy, but also that they do not show violence or pornography. Too many adverts would also not be welcomed. Instead, Russian channels should broadcast educational and cultural programs.
“The television has been turned into a scrapheap,” Obukhov observed. The council’s task would be to sort that scrapheap out and bring Russian TV up to European standards.
As for the membership of such TV watchdogs, the MP believes they could be comprised of representatives of political parties and public organizations, as well as members of society with “moral authority”.
The idea put forward by the Communists is not new. A similar bill was considered, though not passed by the then Russian parliament, in 1992.Later, in 1997, a council to oversee morality was created. However, the watchdog body, headed by Valentina Matvienko, met only once. Two years later, Russian deputies returned to the problem of morality on TV, but again, the bill was not approved.
The Communists hope that this time the legislation will have a chance to finally go into effect.
"The bill does not suggest punitive measures, so possibly the government will give us support," MP Ostanina Told Itar-Tass.
The Communists have not been the only ones expressing concern over the issue of morality. In May this year, several well-known Russian actors, writers and artists wrote a joint letter appealing to President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to establish a public council that would monitor the media’s compliance with norms of morality. They complained that there were no controls at all and Russian viewers did not have much to choose from: just blood and violence.