Children Give Duma Pretext for Censorship

United Russia deputies want the population to accept packaged newspapers, edited television newscasts and a ban on action movies in prime time in the name of sheltering the innocence of children.

A United Russia-drafted bill on protecting children from information harmful to their health and development aims to limit the media's dissemination of pornography, obscene language, drug use, alcohol, smoking and violence.

The bill says television may not air depictions or descriptions of crashes, catastrophes and illnesses that involve “realistic demonstrations of consequences that may instill fear, horror and panic in children” from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Newspapers and magazines with articles of this kind are to be sealed at sales points where they can be accessed by children.

“The legislation is too vague,” said Yury Dobronravov, a managing partner in Dobronravov & Partners. “But, being the father of two, I like it because it deals with a pressing problem.”

Under the bill, all daytime television programs must begin with a warning on age restrictions (under 6, above 6, under 12 and under 16). Information on age restrictions must be printed on the front page of newspapers and magazines and take up at least 5 percent of the top part of a page on web sites.

Ulyana Zimina, a senior legal adviser at the Yandex search engine, said she considered the web site requirement technically unfeasible.

“We know of no worldwide precedents for imposing ratings on all web sites,” Zimina said.

Many television programs would fall under these restrictions, and “channels will not be able to air adequate newscasts” because many news pieces deal with violence and catastrophes, said a lawyer with a large television company.

A CEO with another television company said the channels would not be able to air popular movies like “Rambo” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” before 10 p.m.

Most news publications would have to be sold sealed, which would create an impossible situation for popular dailies, said Pavel Filenkov, commercial director of Kommersant.

United Russia Deputy Robert Shlegel denied that the bill would restrict the freedom of speech.

“There are no plans to limit freedom of information on any level. The legislation was introduced solely for the protection of children's rights,” Shlegel said.

The current draft is not ready to be submitted to the entire Duma for a second reading, said Natalya Karpovich, a Duma deputy who has worked on the bill. The reading was scheduled for Wednesday but was postponed late Monday. No new date has been set.

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