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Soviet Union


In 1988 the regime published more than 8,000 daily newspapers in approximately sixty languages, with a combined circulation of about 170 million. Every all-union newspaper was circulated in its Russian-language version. Nearly 3,000 newspapers, however, reached the population in non-Russian languages. Minority-language newspapers constituted roughly 25 percent of the total circulation, although non-Russians made up almost 50 percent of the population (see Nationalities of the Soviet Union , ch. 4).

All newspaper reporters and editors belonged to the party-controlled Union of Journalists, composed of nearly 74,000 members. In 1988 some 80 percent of the union's reporters and editors were party members. Inevitably, assignments of editors had to be approved by the party. In the late 1980s, all the central editors in chief of major all-union newspapers belonged to the CPSU Central Committee. The party also sought to control journalists by combining higher education and higher party schools with schools of journalism (see Training , ch. 7). Reporters and editors thus were trained under the aegis of the professional party elite. For newspaper journalists and television and radio reporters, newspaper photographers, and literary editors, Moscow University's School of Journalism provided a main conduit to party positions concerned with the media. In the 1980s, some 2,500 graduate, undergraduate, evening school, and correspondence students annually graduated from the School of Journalism. Students were taught party strictures within the following eight departments: theory and practice of the party-Soviet press, history of the party-Soviet press, television and radio broadcasting, movie-making and editorial-publishing work, foreign press and literature, Russian journalism and literature, stylistics of the Russian language, and techniques of newspaper work and information media. By the late 1980s, Moscow University's School of Journalism had graduated approximately 100,000 journalists.

Party members supposedly read the all-union newspapers differently from their nonparty counterparts. Trained to scan certain sections of the paper, party members read with an eye toward instruction and guidance. In contrast to nonparty members, the loyal party elite apparently first read any article or editorial related to ideology, the Party Rules (see Glossary), or instructions. By contrast, most nonparty members reportedly read the international news first, followed by sports, science and culture, and economic events before they turned to political or ideological articles, if they read articles on these subjects at all.

In the late 1980s, newspapers gradually developed new formats and new issues. Under Andropov, Pravda began to print short reports of weekly Politburo meetings. Eventually, other major newspapers published accounts of these meetings as well.

Under Gorbachev, Politburo reports expanded to provide more details on the leadership's thinking about domestic and foreign affairs. Before Gorbachev's assumption of power, Western sources had identified a partial list of proscribed topics, which included crime, drugs, accidents, natural disasters, occupational injuries, official organs of censorship, security, intelligence, schedules of travel for the political leadership, arms sales abroad, crime or morale problems in the armed forces, hostile actions against Soviet citizens abroad, and special payments and education for athletes. After 1985 Gorbachev's policy of openness gave editors a freer hand to publish information on many of these subjects.

In the 1980s, regional newspapers differed in several ways from all-union newspapers. The distribution of regional newspapers varied from circulation at the republic level to circulation in a province, city, or district. The party allowed many regional newspapers to print most of their issues in the region's native language, which reflected the Stalinist policy of "national in form, socialist in content." Local newspaper circulation remained restricted to a region. These publications often focused on such issues as local heroes who contributed to the good of the community or significant problems (as expressed in letters to the editor) relating to crime or natural disasters. By contrast, after Gorbachev came to power, most all-union newspapers began to report on societal shortcomings. However, in the late 1980s regional papers continued to contain more personal advertisements and local merchant notices than the all-union newspapers, if the latter carried any at all.

Originally, Lenin argued that criticism should be channeled through letters to the editor and would assist in cleansing society of its problems. He believed that public discussion would facilitate the elimination of shortcomings and that open expression of problems would create a significant feedback mechanism for the leadership and for the country as a whole. Lenin's ideas in this regard were not carried out by Stalin and Khrushchev, who apparently believed the party needed no assistance from the people in identifying problems. But in 1981, Brezhnev created the Central Committee Letters Department, and later Andropov called for more letters to editors to expose corruption and mismanagement. Chernenko advocated that greater "media efficacy" be instituted so that newspapers, for example, would carry more in-depth and current analyses on pressing issues. Gorbachev expanded the flexibility allowed by giving newspapers leeway in publishing letters critical of society and even critical of the government.

Newspaper letters departments usually employed large staffs and handled extremely high volumes of letters daily. Not all letters were published because they often dealt with censored subjects or their numbers simply posed too great a burden for any one newspaper to handle. The letters departments, however, reportedly took their work very seriously and in the late 1980s were used by the press to encourage the population to improve society.

Letters to editors on a great number of previously forbidden topics also elicited responses from the population that could be manipulated by the Soviet newspapers to influence public opinion in the desired direction. Because party members made up the majority of active newspaper readers, according to polls conducted in the Soviet Union, they wrote most of the letters to the editor. Thus, their perspectives probably colored the newspapers' letters sections.

Of all the newspapers, Pravda (Truth), an organ of the CPSU Central Committee, was the most authoritative and, therefore, the most important. Frequently, it was the bellwether for important events, and readers often followed its news leads to detect changes in policies. With about 12 million copies circulated every day to over 20 million citizens, Pravda focused on party events and domestic and foreign news.

Other newspapers, however, also commanded wide circulation. Izvestiia (News), the second most authoritative paper, emanated from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and in the late 1980s circulated to between 8 and 10 million people daily. Izvestiia also contained official government information and general news and an expanded Sunday section composed of news analysis, feature stories, poetry, and cartoons. Trud (Labor), issued by the Soviet labor unions, circulated six days a week, reaching 8 to 9 million people. It emphasized labor and economic analyses and included other official decrees. Komsomol'skaia pravda (Komsomol Truth), published by the Komsomol (see Glossary), was distributed to between 9 and 10 million people. Krasnaia zvezda (Red Star), published by the Ministry of Defense, covered most daily military news and events and published military human interest stories and exposes. The literary bimonthly Literaturnaia gazeta (Literary Gazette) disseminated the views of the Union of Writers and contained authoritative statements and perspectives concerning literature, plays, cinema, and literary issues of popular interest. A publication of the Central Committee, Sovetskaia Rossiia (Soviet Russia), was the Russian Republic's most widely distributed newspaper, with a circulation of nearly 12 million. A weekly regional newspaper, Moskovskie novosti (Moscow News), appeared in both Russian and English editions and reported on domestic and international events. It became very popular during the late 1980s, both in the Soviet Union and abroad. The weekly newspaper Za rubezhom (Abroad) devoted its pages exclusively to international affairs and foreign events. Finally, Sotsialisticheskaia industriia (Socialist Industry), a daily newspaper, concentrated on industrial and economic events, statistics, and human interest stories.

Data as of May 1989

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