Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

So What's in a Name? Not the Word 'Russia'

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

In a recent interview with Ekho Moskvy radio, State Duma Deputy Valery Komissarov let a hint of boastfulness slip into his comparison between Russia's parliament and Britain's. "I'll tell you, I was in England, in the English Parliament," he said. "Do you know how many laws the English Parliament passes per year? Twenty-five. Us -- something like 600, 700. Them -- 25."

A few laws in this mountain of legislation make headlines even beyond the Russian-language press, such as the law on the monetization of social benefits that brought thousands to the streets in protest earlier this year. But such cases aside, one can't but wonder: How does the Duma keep itself so busy?

Komissarov offered a fine example in May, presenting a set of amendments to the law on media that were promptly and overwhelmingly approved. They weren't, however, aimed at the much-discussed immorality in the media; an amendment addressing that peril foundered with less than a third of the Duma's votes. Komissarov's initiative passed with 350 of 450 possible votes, suggesting that the threat it addressed was far more urgent: irresponsibly named media outlets.

Forbidden are new media outlets using the words "Russia," "Russian Federation" or variations thereof in their names. Also prohibited is the use of names or pseudonyms of citizens without their consent, of governmental organs and of political parties; "abusive words"; and previously existing intellectual property, including the titles of fictional works.

Many details, such as what exactly was meant by "abusive words," were left undefined, and the legislation's urgency and far-sightedness were not agreed upon by all. Mikhail Fedotov, secretary of the Union of Journalists and co-author of the original law on media in 1992, called the amendments "abominably written," telling Vremya Novostei, "It's simply legislative illiteracy taken to the extreme."

But a little imagination will show the potential chaos Komissarov's initiative has averted. Imagine the havoc that could be wreaked by a rogue newspaper called "Governor of the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District." Or "And Quiet Flows the Don: The Magazine." Or a weekly newsletter titled "My Neighbor Alexei Alexeyevich Tikhomirov Is a Fool."

The Duma's bold action in this case may not be enough to win over the 97 percent of Russians who, according to a Public Opinion Foundation Poll, don't approve of its performance. But if Komissarov and his colleagues haven't turned things around yet, there's no reason to panic. They have a good 400 chances left this year.

Staff Writer Stephen Boykewich contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.