An initiative to create a Public Oversight Board for media control in Russia may seem like a passage from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four but it is a reality in the country, which still struggles to accept the concept of democracy and free speech.
The letter [ru] behind the initiative, complaining about low standards of morality on television, is addressed to Russia’s President Dimitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. It has been signed by many prominent actors and “workers of art” with Nikita Mikhalkov, an Oscar-winning director and “favorite” of Russian bloggers, among them.
The letter draws attention to immorality of Russian media and ties the rising level of “moral degradation of a large part of our society” to the lack of control from the state:
Продолжаются попытки предать забвению и намеренно исказить отечественную историю, культуру, традиции. Нравственные идеалы, гражданственность и патриотизм в процессе воспитания и обучения детей и молодежи формируются слабо. Приходится с сожалением констатировать утрату многих базовых ценностей, падение общего культурного уровня. Во многом «благодаря» новой культурной политике государства поползла вверх кривая роста преступности, алкоголизации, наркомании, педофилии, суицидов, коррупции и прочих социальных пороков. Возрастает степень моральной деградации значительной части нашего общества. На призывы неравнодушных людей к властям остановить нравственное разложение нации мы слышим: Извините, у нас – демократия.
The letter proposes the creation of a Public Oversight Board responsible for controlling the level of morality in media:
Считаем необходимым приступить к созданию Общественного наблюдательного совета, осуществляющего контроль за соблюдением средствами массовой информации исторически сложившихся норм нравственности. Такой контроль, связанный с возможностью общественного порицания, не имеет ничего общего с политической цензурой недавнего исторического прошлого.
The initiative has not found a lot of support among bloggers. Although most agreed with the lack of taste in the Russian media, they condemned any efforts to openly censor its content.
Blogger helenova wonders [ru] about the motives for the letter. “Of course, the text of the letter by worker of culture regarding censorship, spirituality and church is horrible in its helplessness and limited view,” she writes. “I cannot understand why it has been signed by respected grown-ups many of whom probably experienced all advantages of censorship.”
helenova is sceptical about the future of this initiative and explains why it would not work:
But one can understand them: streams of tastelessness from TV screens have flooded all good and kind a long time ago. All that should be stopped at some point but these letters won’t help. […] Because the policy of a TV channel is determined by the management that brought this idea of what people need. It is also determined by Almighty Dough.
Eugenyshultz expresses [ru] criticism of the initiative and condemns any effort to censor media content (the general feeling amongst bloggers):
It is clear to me that every stand-alone or group (with not many members) organ of censorship – even with the best intentions – will eventually become “choker of freedom.” Mikhalkov’s ideas on censorship, as far as I understood from the text, wonder in search of a good censor. But this approach goes nowhere. Objective censors do not exist.
New reality and old thinking
Dissatisfaction with low standards of media content in Russia does go far back and revolves mainly around entertainment programs on television. Notorious reality show DOM 2, for example, has long been a subject of fierce “What people need vs what people want” debate.
The Internet is no exception. Efforts to present the platform as a place for pornography and pedophiles come from the top. Vladimir Putin once said that 50 percent of Internet content was pornography and diminished its role as a trusted source of information.
Nevertheless the initiative to create a Public Oversight Board will probably go nowhere. As depressing and tasteless as the media content in Russia (like in many other countries) is today, it will be almost impossible to go back to the days of the old kultsovet, the board responsible for content of art products in the Soviet Union.
But this proposal to control the media content is an indication of a long-lasting conflict between new media realities and Russian old-school thinkers in power. While the younger generation doesn’t seem to mind current media and Internet content, the older generation fails to grasp the situation that people are free to choose what to watch, listen and read.