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IRIS Plus 2006-3: Protection of Minors from Harmful Information in the Law of Post-Soviet States

Author: Anna Belitskaya, Moscow Media Law and Policy Centre

Published: 01/06/2006

What is pornography? Are not there limits to showing violence on television screens? What mass media content endangers morality?

If it is already difficult to answer these questions for oneself, how much more of a challenge is it to answer them for and on behalf of our children?

Obviously, finding the right yardstick for what to prohibit is crucial. Yet when it comes to measuring morals and values the phrase "different folks, different strokes" holds very true. That global mass media meet with a huge variety of cultural, religious, historical and political backgrounds makes what already varies within a homogenous environment even more diverse.

Once the yardstick is found, the procedures for monitoring and enforcing the standards must be determined. It is necessary to decide who is responsible for the control envisaged, what media outlets are to be monitored and what control system is suitable for the different technologies in use.

And this is still not the end of the story. The need to limit media content in order to protect minors arises only because information flow exists in the first place. And that it exists reflects the welcomed implementation, in principle, of the Human Right to receive and impart information. This very right, however, has to be balanced with conflicting interests such as the physical and moral well being of children. At the same time, the right to information has to be protected against unjustified curtailment, or – to put it more bluntly – against states exercising censorship under the pretext of the protection of youth.

In short, writing on the protection of minors from harmful information in the law can cover many angles. The angle chosen in this IRIS plus is to inform about the difficulties of establishing standards, procedures and justified limits to the right to information in countries with a more recent tradition of free mass media and the challenges they pose for protecting the youth.