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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Television and Video Cassette Recorders

In the 1970s and 1980s, television become the preeminent mass medium. In 1988 approximately 75 million households owned television sets, and an estimated 93 percent of the population watched television. Moscow, the base from which most of the television stations broadcast, transmitted some 90 percent of the country's programs, with the help of more than 350 stations and nearly 1,400 relay facilities. Moscow projected some fifty hours of news, commentaries, education, and entertainment every day from its four channels. About 20 percent of this programming consisted of news, the main program being "Vremia" (Time), a thirty-five- to forty-five-minute news program beginning at 9:00 P.M Moscow time. Between 80 and 90 percent of all families who owned televisions followed "Vremia" broadcasts. Normally, about two-thirds of reporting on each telecast consisted of domestic affairs, usually stories concentrating on the government, the economy, and important regional events. International news filled just under one-third of the format; three to four minutes were devoted to sports and two minutes to weather. Another news program, "Vokrug sveta" (Today in the World), which featured foreign affairs reports and short but in-depth news analyses, attracted from 60 to 90 million viewers every evening, particularly because it was broadcast both in the early evening and in the late evening.

Countless "firsts" were achieved on Soviet television, beginning under Andropov and continuing with Gorbachev. During Andropov's rule, coverage was given to the downing of the South Korean airliner that strayed over Soviet territory in 1983, including a live broadcast featuring several high-level political and military leaders who answered questions from reporters without prior submission. With Gorbachev's accession, many live programs were broadcast via satellite television bridges (satellite electronic links) between the Soviet Union and the United States; footage and commentary were shown on the war in Afghanistan; the Chernobyl' nuclear reactor accident was explored in-depth; the Armenian earthquake was covered; and live interviews, speeches, and debates involving Gorbachev and other Politburo members were broadcast.

Almost every television program tried to include an ideological theme. Televised propaganda bombarded viewers in many forms; themes on the benefits of the economy were especially prevalent. Economic series, such as "Construction Sites of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan," "Winner in Socialist Emulation," and "How to Put Your Heart into Your Work," exhorted viewers to help to improve the economy. Patriotic films portrayed Soviet victories during World War II, and spy movies depicted the efforts of the country's security services to protect it from "imperialist threat." Other programs featured lectures ranging from high school class instruction to party virtues, nonviolent children's cartoons, some game shows highlighting proper social values, and sports competitions. In an effort to create a larger viewer constituency, Gorbachev took advantage of television's popular appeal by being the first leader to use it to reach the population with his speeches and public relations campaigns.

With television, in contrast to radio, where the authorities had a difficult time controlling foreign broadcasts, censors could exercise greater control. Yet, with the dramatic increase in VCRs, unauthorized tapes circulated around the major ports and cities. This circulation complicated the regime's attempts to control the information revolution. In fact, Western specialists estimated that Soviet households contained approximately 300,000 VCRs. The problem of control became more acute in the mid-1980s as the policy of glasnost' (see Glossary) led the younger generation to yearn for more information.

Data as of May 1989