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Saturday, 21 November, 1998, 09:00 GMT
Watching the detectives: Crime on Russian TV
Mafia shooting
Shocking TV images: A mafia man shoots a rival in a Moscow street
A recent Russian news report says the registered crime rate in the country has doubled in the past 10 years. Crime is so much a part of life in today's Russia that the television channels carry special daily bulletins devoted to gangland killings, drug seizures and robberies, perhaps because the sheer volume of coverage would swamp the main news programmes, as BBC Monitoring's Patrick Jackson reports:

security man in mask
The security forces wear balaclavas to preserve anonymity
When crime stories do make prime-time TV slots such as Russian Public TV's nine o'clock news or Russian NTV's seven o'clock bulletin, they either involve cases with political resonance or cover the latest, rarely reassuring reports from news conferences given by the Prosecutor-General's Office or the Interior Ministry.

Looking back at a typical fortnight's coverage, there is a glimpse of the magnitude of the problem in a briefing by Prosecutor-General Yuriy Skuratov, reported by RIA news agency, at which he announced the registered crime rate had doubled in 10 years.

arrest on Msocow street
A night security patrol arrests a suspect on the streets of Moscow
Crimes, he said, have become "particularly grave while criminals have grown more aggressive and brutal. Their technical equipment has become more sophisticated and so has the geographical spread of kidnapping and hostage-taking".

In another report, Interfax news agency quoted an Interior Ministry report saying drug-related crime in 1997 was twice what it was in 1996, with Russia now having to cope with 2 million drug users and 300,000 chronic addicts.

The TV channels usually package such facts and figures within correspondents' reports - a visit to a "detox" centre or an interview with a detective - but rarely devote time in the big bulletins to isolated crime stories.

courtroom with cage
A courtoom with a cage for dangerous defendants
A recent exception was the case of Andrey Klimentyev, a man with a criminal record who won the mayor's office in the city of Nizhnyy Novgorod, and was then arrested on charges of vote-rigging. The case has received extensive news and analysis coverage by the TV channels.

To get a clearer impression of the extent of crime in everyday Russian life one needs to look not at the main news bulletins but at the crime round-ups such as "On Duty" on Russia TV, Russia NTV's "Kriminal" and "Highway Patrol" on Russia TV6.

Raw depiction of violence

Highway Patrol, which despite its name by no means confines itself to recording carnage from traffic accidents, is perhaps the most extreme in its raw depiction of violence and brutal reporting style.

Broadcast twice a day, at 8am and just after midnight, the 15-minute programme trawls around Moscow with police units, filming corpses in pools of blood, drug stashes and fleeing prostitutes.

Reporters frequently interrogate suspects for the camera only hours after arrest. Captive interviewees reply to questions such as why they killed or how they became drugs couriers.

The programme sometimes completely crosses the bounds of decency, displaying, for instance, close-up footage of a suicide-by-hanging.

Despite the candour of Russian television's crime coverage, it is unclear how accurate a picture it gives.

What is certain is that there is no shortage of depressing reminders to Russian viewers of the violence which now surrounds them.

Criminals "now wearing ties"

Colonel Yuriy Semonov, a former anti-mafia CID chief in Moscow, says organised criminals often use their money to gain political influence:

"The people who were earlier directly involved in crime are now trying to get into politics, that is to say they now wear ties, look very respectable but, of course, are still up to their old tricks.

"But then we can say that money decides everything, so very many people simply get close to the centres of power and sort out all the matters they have to deal with in that way."

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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Semenov interviewed on Russia TV (in Russian) (36")
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