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8 Apr, 2013 10:12

Russia bans swear words in mass media…but which ones?

Russia bans swear words in mass media…but which ones?

A fresh Russian bill sets hefty fines for using obscene language in mass media, as well as in other commercial activities. Critics note that without a full and concrete list of swear words, the application of the law is still under question.

The bill signed into law by the president amends the federal law on mass media and the misdemeanor code and introduces responsibility for using obscene language in mass media, as well as for making and selling any products with foul language.

Simply making goods with obscene words on them will be punishable with fines of 2,000 – 3,000 rubles (about US$65-$100) for individuals and 5,000-20,000 rubles ($1600-$6500) for legal entities. Law enforcers will also be able to confiscate the “item of administrative offence” – the product with foul language on it. One of the MPs who supported the bill has explained that law enforcers would seize the actual printed newspapers and magazines or, in case of electronic media, “the data carriers.”

Despite the fact that the bill is already coming into force, some questions raised by its critics remain – most importantly, the absence of a certified list of banned words, without which the law seems incomplete. This was the main reason for a negative review from the government, but the Duma ruled that it was unimportant for the misdemeanor bill and carried on with passing it.

Another objection that came from the government was that the new bill was repeating already existing norms, as provided by the federal law on state support to cinema and the law on children’s protection from harmful information.

A top representative of the Russian journalists’ community has said that the fresh bill equals a “death sentence to the mass media.”

The mass media that uses a most harmless word from the certain lexicon will get a warning for the first time, but the second use in this word even in the same article will lead to its closure. This means, if someone says something rude we practically lead the media outlet to a death sentence,” said Ashot Djazoyan, secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists.

The sponsors of the bill told critics that it can be enforced in the same way as the existing rules that ban actual swearing in public places – on the basis of the experts’ conclusions and previous court rulings.

According to latest opinion polls, 84 per cent of Russians support the ban on swearing in the mass media. Only 8 per cent of respondents said that obscene language was “an ancient tradition” and suggested that the ban would hardly change anything.