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Soviet Union

The Government Role

In the late 1980s, censorship authority was exercised by Glavlit, which employed some 70,000 censors to review information before it was disseminated by publishing houses, editorial offices, and broadcasting studios. Government censorship organs attended to all levels, in the forms of territorial, provincial, municipal, and district organs. No mass medium escaped Glavlit's control. All press agencies and radio and television stations had a Glavlit representative on their editorial staffs. Although Glavlit was attached to the Council of Ministers, many émigrés asserted that Glavlit answered not only to the Ideological Department but also to the KGB.

Although the Ideological Department regulated ideological and political censorship, the KGB handled classified information and, by extension, controlled Glavlit's "administrative and staffing" responsibilities. Many Glavlit censors were former KGB members. The KGB and Glavlit worked together to implement a compendium of regulations contained in the Censor's Index, which contained classified information on "state secrets" that could not be revealed in the media. Apparently, the index contained between 300 and 1,000 pages, with periodically updated lists of military, technical, economic statistical, and other data on various people and issues forbidden for dissemination. As a result, editors and writers rarely touched on proscribed material. If they published any unsanctioned information, the censors either instituted harsher publication restrictions or fired those who broke the rules.

The government also regulated information through the central and republic ministries of culture and similar all-union state committees and specialized state censors. The ministries of culture helped coordinate centralized censorship for Glavlit as well as execute other literary controls. Three distinct state committees implemented censorship policies throughout the country: the State Committee for Publishing Houses, Printing Plants, and the Book Trade (Goskomizdatvennyi komitet po delan izdatel'stv, poligrafii, i knizhnoi torgovli--Goskomizdat); the States Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting (Gousdarstvennyi komitet po televideniyu i radioveshchaniya--Gostelradio); and the State Committee for Cinenatography (Gousdasstvennyi komitet po kinematografii--Goskino). Furthermore, the dissemination of books on cultural, political, military, scientific, technical, economic, and social issues fell under the purview of separate government printing houses. These individual printing houses oversaw the numerical distributions of all titles, and they limited access to certain books deemed to be related to state security, even if the information was unclassified. The publishing houses also regulated the number of copies of foreign titles published internally and Soviet titles published abroad.

The government censorship hierarchy not only maintained comprehensive controls over information distributed by the news services worldwide but the official news organs--TASS and Novosti-- regulated all news wire service information to ensure government control of information disseminated to the public. In 1988 TASS employed about 65,000 professional correspondents and journalists. Because TASS operated an extensive number of news agencies around the world, in the late 1980s its 2.5 million lines reached more than 20,000 subscribers daily. From 20 to 25 percent of its subscribers were media organizations that depended almost entirely on TASS for foreign and domestic reporting. Consequently, TASS officials, who were located in every republic's capital and in nearly all provincial cities, serviced many newspapers, some of which allotted nearly 50 percent of their news space to TASS-relayed information.

Created in 1961, Novosti supplemented TASS. Serving as the conduit for information that TASS could not accommodate, Novosti focused mainly on foreign reporting. By assuming responsibilities for feature stories, commentary, interviews, and other articles featuring the best side of Soviet society, Novosti attempted to provide its domestic and foreign readership with human interest stories in ways TASS could not. Novosti's correspondents annually transmitted almost 50,000 articles. Together, TASS and Novosti served as the primary means for distributing Soviet viewpoints around the world.

Procedures for censorship of military and scientific information differed from those followed for other kinds of information. Before information relating to any aspect of the Soviet military was disseminated through the media, the material first had to have been approved by the military censor and then by Glavlit. This complex censorship process began with the first-level editor in Moscow, who censored the article and sent a letter detailing the author's background and sources used to a military censor. Once it reached the military censorship authorities of the General Staff, the material had to be sanctioned again before it reached the penultimate stage--review by the political-military and KGB editors. Whether the information was regional or all-union in scope, the Main Political Directorate of the Soviet Army and Navy and the military directorate of the KGB reportedly advised, if not instructed, the military censors, despite the military censors' official obligations to the General Staff. Once these military officers had read and approved the article, it went to the Glavlit censors for publication. If the military officers had any hesitation about a piece, they had the authority to request that the editor discuss with them any aspect of the article under question. Soviet sources also have revealed that once the Glavlit censors received the edited piece from the military officers, they never questioned the revisions and routinely distributed the article to the appropriate media.

Similar procedures applied to science censors within the Academy of Sciences (see Glossary), who targeted material related to "national defense" in the areas of science and technology. Censors specializing in various scientific disciplines concentrated on stripping any material that could be construed to reveal the regime's national security policies. For example, publications and broadcasts related to outer space events were examined by the Commission on Research and Exploitation of Cosmic Space, associated with the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences.

Other censors concentrated on such topics as radio electronics, chemistry, geology, and computer science. The atomic energy censors, located at the State Committee for the Utilization of Atomic Energy, oversaw materials concentrating on nuclear energy, even those that focused on science fiction. After approval by the specialized censors, the works were referred to Glavlit.

Data as of May 1989

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