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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Media Leaders Argue TV Regulation Rules

Russian television figures and media specialists agreed Monday that television programming should be regulated, but they were sharply divided on whether a code of ethics should be established within the industry or imposed by the government.

"We are so fed up with bans that we do not even want to have their aftertaste in our mouths," said Vladimir Pozner, a popular television host who is president of the Russian television academy that issues the prestigious annual Tefy awards.

"Television should be regulated, but not by the state," he said.

A symposium called Television: Moral Territory was held Monday to coincide with debates in the State Duma over legislation that would establish a council to set ethical standards in television and radio.

Under the proposed legislation, three of the council's nine members would be appointed by the Duma, the opposition-led lower house of parliament; three by the Federation Council, the upper house; and three by the president.

Critics have charged that such a body would become a tool of political censorship in the hands of the communist opposition, which has complained of little media access.

In recent years, shows with explicit sex and violence on Russia's newly commercialized television channels have drawn persistent criticism from many intellectuals and nationalist politicians.

The NTV channel, controlled by media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, has been the target of particularly harsh criticism in past months over its decision to broadcast the controversial film "The Last Temptation of Christ" despite protests by the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the sexually explicit late night shows "Pro Eto," or About It, and "Imperia Strasti," or Passion Empire.

Also singled out for criticism Monday was the TV-6 program "Dorozhny Patrul," or "Road Patrol," which often shows bloody, real-life crime scenes.

Leonid Parfyonov, NTV's chief producer, said the television station stood by its choice of programming, pointing out that Russia has no clear laws regulating what can and cannot be broadcast over the airwaves.

"I would be exceptionally grateful if there were clear bans," Parfyonov said. If the government announced an official national policy and told television channels to follow it, he said NTV would comply. "Otherwise, we are not breaking any laws."

Addressing the broad criticism of the domination of Western programming on Russian television, Svetlana Kolesnik, an associate professor at Moscow State University's School of Journalism, said the availability of programs from around the world makes it even more important for Russian broadcasters to impose their own restrictions.

Sarah Thane, the director of programming and cable television for Britain's Independent Television Commission, described how the regulatory agency operates in that country. The commission, established by the British parliament, licenses private broadcasters and regulates content.

"The key aim is that TV should retain standards acceptable to U.K. people," Thane said at the conference sponsored by BBC MPM, a media aid agency connected to the British Broadcasting Corporation.

But participants said the problem for Russia is that it does not have a clear understanding of what is morally acceptable and what is not.

Alexander Gurnov, head of the TSN television news service, which produces news for TV-6, said that public opinion polls and ratings do not reflect a national consensus, which he said is hard to determine in a country as large and diverse as Russia.

"One of the main tasks is to understand what is acceptable for Russian viewer," Gurnov said, evoking a Russian proverb:

"What is fun for a Russian, is death for a foreigner," he said.

However, if the industry were left to determine its own code of ethics, this could be accomplished quickly by the people who control the bulk of Russian media, he said.

"There are only two of them in the country," Gurnov joked, referring to Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, another media tycoon who owns a stake in ORT television.

"If they got together and agreed, there would be no problem," he added.