Thursday, September 6, 2012

Russian media start marking news content for children's sake

Even though I rarely contribute direct to my news agency's newswire, I do routinely check the general Russian wire for hundreds of news headlines and read at least couple dozen or so stories a day. Social media exchange notwithstanding, of course.

Quite often the general news contain dry reporting on violence and murders based on information the agency gathers from its sources in the Interior Ministry, Investigative Committee and other power bodies. The most disturbing news items are on sexual violence and pedophiles in particular.

At the end of 2010 Russia's then president Medvedev signed a law aimed at protecting children from information that may be harmful to their mental health and wellbeing. On September 1, 2012 the law went into force.

The law points out which content may be suitable for children of which age groups: 6+, 12+, 16+, 18+. It also gives instructions on marking the content on TV and the radio, in print and online.

The law doesn't say news agencies should be marking their content. On the contrary, during public consultations with the official media watchdog it was noted that news agencies should not waste precious time on marking. However since RIA Novosti also operates a number of top news websites in Russian and other languages, we had to define the marking for own content.

Preliminary discussions held with other online news media showed most felt they had to rate their websites 16+ or even 18+. Not because they inadvertently promote pornography or drugs but because of reporting sexual violence and violent murders.

I remember that the 16+ marking on movies in Soviet cinemas was the best signal to watch them. News websites marking their content 16+ and 18+ could get an increase in the readership among the 12-17 year olds – the youngest group as measured by TNS in Russia. By the way, RIA Novosti has fewer than 5 percent of such readers on its websites.

The flip side is more serious however, as news websites marking their content as unsuitable for children may be blocked from the public internet sites such as cafes, restaurants, shopping malls, etc.

RIA Novosti decided to mark its websites as 12+. Does that mean we will no longer report the disturbing news? No. But it means we will be doing our best to make sure the published news don't just shock and stupefy but inform and educate both the children and their parents.


  1. Valery, how did you settle on age 12 as the dividing line? Many would think age 13 is also a bit young for stories about sexual violence.

  2. Tom, sorry for the delay in approving your comment. The internet connection on the fantastic Santorini island was quite unstable. Writing this from the Athens airport now.

    There seems to be a fine line between reporting sexual violence and describing it. BTW, Russia's official media watchdog will be holding a roundtable in early October. We hope to get a better understanding there on how to rate such stories.