Russia’s TV system needs a refit

European Union report criticizes legal framework

MOSCOW — Russia’s outdated broadcasting regulatory framework has come under the spotlight in a report from European Commission body, the European Audiovisual Observatory.

As European Union countries get to grips with implementing common rules on television regulation introduced in December under the Audiovisual Media Services Directorate, the legal status of television in Russia — the largest European television market outside the area where E.U. law applies — is of growing interest to broadcasting professionals.

As broadcasting services multiply and diversify with the increasing uptake of digital and Internet content and platforms, understanding how broadcasters do business in Russia is of growing importance.

“Russia remains one of the few European countries without a parliamentary statute on broadcasting or the audiovisual media,” the report, “The Regulatory Framework for Audiovisual Media Service in Russia,” states.

The county’s main legal basis for regulating broadcasters is, according to the report’s author Andrei Richter of Moscow’s Media Law and Policy Center, an “outdated and, concerning licensing, rudimentary Statute on the Mass Media of 1991.”

The lack of cohesive legislation over the past 20 years means that regulation of television broadcasting in Russia is long overdue for an overhaul, Richter says.

Russia’s legal framework has not kept pace with the appearance of new digital media services creating problems of legal definition under an existing regulatory framework drawn up at a time when the technology for them simply did not exist.

Richter explains how media laws are interpreted in Russia and gives a step by step explanation of key notions in regulation and their interpretation — including concepts such as freedom of broadcasting, government-private sector partnerships and must-carry rules.

Licensing rules and Russia’s dual license system — broadcasting and communication licences — are explained and differing concepts on state and public service broadcasting are examined.

Rules on media ownership, concentration and foreign property are analyzed, and other areas, such as product placement, the protection of minors and the rights of national minorities, are explored with reference to the legal framework that covers them.

Although Russia’s broadcast regulations are in need of modernization, Richter warns that there are concerns that the current licensing system, which has been in place for nearly 20 years, could be replaced by a system where “transparency of license attribution procedures would not be guaranteed.”

“Clearly such a system would raise serious questions concerning pluralism and the diversity of programming and information made technically possible by the advent of digital television in Russia,” Richter said.