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Legislators consider banning profane vocabulary from mass media

January 15, 2013, 17:25 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Russian legislators are still trying to pose obstructions to the spread of profane vocabulary, but their efforts look not very effective. Most Russians would like to clear their language of swear words, too, but at the same time they confess that they use strong expressions themselves now and then.

A group of legislators under Deputy Speaker Sergei Zheleznyak has drafted a bill suggesting fines for the manufacture and distribution of media products containing unprintable expressions. Individuals may have to pay 2,000 to 3,000 rubles, officials, 5,000-20,000, and legal entities, 20,000 to 200,000. The item that constitutes the administrative offence will be confiscated.

The constitutional legislation and statehood committee has advised the adoption of the bill in the first reading.

In the State Duma’s data base there is another bill prohibiting swear words from the mass media. United Russia legislator, film director Stanislav Govorukhin is one of its authors. This bill applies to the film industry, too. The maximum fine under this act would be smaller – 50,000 rubles. It is still being considered by the committee on culture.

The consumer rights watchdog Roskomnadzor back last August came out for punishing strong language in the mass media with fines.

“Roskomnadzor believes that the intensity of using unprintable vocabulary in the mass media requires more serious attention from the standpoint of legal control. The existing rules have no pre-emptive effect,” the agency said, adding that complaints were most frequent about entertainment channels and certain sites in the world web.

Some members of the media community say that the mass media should not be fined for strong foul words. The ex-president of the holding company Profmedia, Rafael Akopov, is quoted by the daily Izvestia as saying fines and profanity in the media look like fines for miniskirts. He recalled that do’s and don’ts in language were very flexible and volatile.

“The wish to sterilize current speech and the reality is a road leading to nowhere. It is useless waste of effort and money,” Akopov said. “The mass media are perfectly aware of what audience they work for.”

The Russian swear vocabulary has centuries-old roots. It is a combination of strong unprintable words. Just two decades ago it was impossible to imagine them in print. Over the past few years it has witnessed renaissance. Fiction fell its first victim. Russian cinema and theater followed. The age limit of those using obscene phraseology keeps getting lower.

At the beginning of the 1990s the Russian profane vocabulary was allowed to sneak cautiously onto book pages and television screens. The documentary film industry was next. Already in the late 1980s and early 1990s strong swear words were quite frequent in Russia-made films.

In the modern media space Russian swear expressions are nothing out of the ordinary these days. It is used by some TV hosts, pop and rock idols and the most popular bloggers.

The music group Leningrad has become a strong-worded rock classic of the past decade. In some regions of the country, including Moscow, the local authorities have issued an unwritten instruction not to let the group play at major sites. The leader of the group, Sergei Shnurov, is an extra-popular figure, even an idol in a sense, largely due to his primitive and shocking escapades.

Psychiatrists say the origin of swear words is simple – the people just lack the words to speak their mind.

“The original motives of using such words are simple,” says psychologist Valery Guzeyev, quoted by the weekly Arguenty I Fakty. “Some are out to show how very tough they are. Others seek to mask their inferiority complexes. There are people who regard profane expressions as a way of protest against society’s current rules. Also, there can be word parasites. In the latter case the person is just inarticulate speaker, unable to express one’s thoughts. Strong words are the easiest way to have it out.”

Most Russians use swear words in everyday life, but at the same time they want the Russian language to be kept clean, as follows from an opinion poll the national public opinion studies center VTSIOM held last April.

According to the poll, 61 percent of the respondents acknowledged they used unprintable vocabulary. At the same time 78 percent believe that “systematic work for the purity of the Russian language is a vital need.” However, it remains unclear how to go about this business. The largest group of the polled (21 percent) said it was enough “to study the language at school deeper,” nine percent urge censorship in the mass media, while a tiny five percent of the polled would like to see a ban on swearing in public places.

A national internet poll of the employed people of Russia has shown that for 46 percent of Russians swearing at work is a daily occurrence. One in five employees says swearing creates a more business-like environment. And one in ten affords the luxury of being rude to clients.

As many as 46 percent of those questioned by the portal said that everybody around is in the habit of swearing at work – the respondents, the colleagues and the bosses. In 19 percent of cases strong expressions are part and parcel of colleagues’ everyday mode of self-expression, and in 49 percent of cases it is just a slip of the tongue. More than half (54 percent of the polled) use rude words to sound more emotional, and only six percent swear to insult another person.