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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Rules for TV's Cartoon Families

For MTHomer and Bart Simpson, the father and son stars of the American series.
After spending a day in court watching cartoons, a Moscow judge on Friday rejected a lawsuit brought against RenTV for broadcasting two American programs that the plaintiff said had piqued his young son's interest in cocaine and prompted the child to insult his mother.

The Khamovniki District Court judge rejected the claim by Igor Smykov, who filed the suit almost three years ago claiming that the cartoon series "The Simpsons" and "The Family Guy" were morally degenerate and promoted drugs, violence and homosexuality.

Smykov sued the channel in June 2002, asking for compensation of 50,000 rubles, which was eventually increased to 300,000 rubles ($10,770). He also demanded that the station be banned from airing the two programs or at least be required to show them later in the evening.

"The Simpsons," which RenTV still runs, is a popular and sophisticated cartoon series that chronicles the adventures of the Simpson family, while "The Family Guy," known in Russia as the "Griffins," is darker. Its characters include a talking dog and an evil-genius baby with ambitions of world domination and homicidal inclinations toward his mother.

Smykov said that his son Konstantin, who was 6 in 2002, approached his parents after watching an episode of "The Family Guy" and asked them what cocaine was. After he was reprimanded, Konstantin called his mother a toad, Smykov said. The suit alleged that RenTV, by broadcasting the two programs, was interfering with a child's right to a normal, healthy childhood.

But Judge Lyubov Dednyova was apparently not impressed by the evidence, which included video recordings of several of the offending episodes.

Smykov was not present in the courtroom Friday. RIA-Novosti reported that he had appeared for the start of the day's session drunk.

He sounded distraught when reached by telephone at his home that afternoon. "I am shocked to the depths of my soul," Smykov said. "I cannot even talk. It is scary. I cannot understand why no one wants to defend the children."

Smykov, who explained his absence during Friday's proceedings by saying he "could not take it" if he lost, said he nevertheless had expected to win. "I did not care about the money," he said. "I was hoping to set a judicial precedent."

Smykov and his lawyer, Larissa Pavlova, said they would appeal the decision.

RenTV lawyer Viktor Zinovyev looked relieved as he lit up a cigarette outside the courthouse Friday afternoon. "This was the absolutely correct decision," Zinovyev said. "There could not be any other decision consistent with the law. Parents above all should decide what a child watches. The government cannot decide that for parents."

The decision had been expected Thursday, but the plaintiff introduced more evidence in the form of video recordings of several episodes of the two shows. The judge and both sides, along with representatives of the Federal Drug Control Service, spent most of Thursday's session watching the cartoons on a television placed in front of the judge's bench. Reporters in the courtroom could not see the screen and simply listened to the audio tracks, while Pavlova and Zinovyev traded barbs.

As evidence that "The Simpsons" promoted homosexuality, the plaintiff played for the judge an episode called "Homer's Phobia," in which the family befriends a local gay businessman. Homer Simpson is scared that his son Bart will become gay if he spends time with John, but in the end he learns to accept the businessman.

The court also watched a "Family Guy" episode titled "If I'm Dyin' I'm Lyin,'" in which the buffoonish Peter Griffin lies and says his son is dying in order to prevent his favorite television show from being canceled.

"You call this a normal family," Pavlova snapped at Zinovyev.

Several of the trial participants were laughing during the screening, including one woman from the Moscow branch of the Federal Drug Control Service, who went red in the face trying to hold in her guffaws.

The involvement of the drug police in the case could have been far from funny for RenTV, one of the last bastions of critical news coverage in the country. The service presented as evidence for the plaintiff expert opinions from linguists that the two programs contained language that promoted drugs.

RenTV has already received one warning from the federal service that oversees the mass media. The service issued the warning in November for what it deemed drug propaganda on the television show "Priznaki Zhizni," or "Signs of Life," with host Artyom Troitsky. Under Russian law, a second warning could result in the channel having its license revoked.

RenTV spokeswoman Maria Olshanskaya said the channel was "obviously satisfied" with the court decision. She declined to comment on whether she thought the suit could have been an indirect attempt to pressure RenTV, whose news coverage is often critical of the government.

Anna Kachkayeva, a media analyst with Radio Free Europe, suggested the suit could have been used against RenTV in an effort to lower its sale price. Unified Energy Systems owns 70 percent of the channel, but Evrofinans has been trying to buy it for two years.

Smykov is no stranger to high-publicity law suits. In November 2003, he filed a suit claiming that the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service had acted illegally in approving the merger of oil majors Yukos and Sibneft. The suit was dismissed by the city's Presnensky District Court in January 2004.

A self-proclaimed rights advocate, Smykov served two years in prison after he was convicted of accepting a bribe in 1993 while working as a city inspector. In 2003, he declared and then retracted his candidacy in the Moscow mayoral and Russian presidential elections.

The LDPR party also has taken an interest in the two cartoon programs. On March 15, LDPR State Duma Deputy Yelena Afanasyeva sent a request to the Culture and Press Ministry asking it to look into the issue.

"The danger of those cartoons is that they create antagonism between children and parents," Deputy Alexander Kurdyumov said. "The family values they teach are different from ours, and they are likely to influence negatively the relations between children and adults."

In his closing arguments Friday, RenTV lawyer Zinovyev took a potshot at the LDPR for its sudden interest in children's programming.

"We have a party saying children should not be able to watch these violent cartoons, when any child can switch on the television in the afternoon and watch the leader of this party start a fight in the Duma," Zinovyev said, referring to party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky's fistfight on the floor of the Duma last Wednesday.