Printed media in the Soviet Union
Printed media in the Soviet Union, i.e., newspapers, magazines and journals, were under strict control of the Communist Party and the Soviet state. The desire to disseminate propaganda is believed to have been the driving force behind the creation of the early Soviet newspapers. Until recently, newspapers were the essential means of communicating with the public, which meant that they were the most powerful way available to spread propaganda and capture the hearts of the populace. Additionally, within the Soviet Union the press evolved into the messenger for the orders from the Central Committee to the party officials and activists. Due to this important role, the Soviet papers were both prestigious in the society and an effective means to control the masses. However, manipulation initially was not the only purpose of the Soviet Press.
- 1 Early Soviet Union
- 2 Late Soviet Union
- 3 Publications
- 4 See also
- 5 References
Early Soviet Union
- Bednota, (The Poor Folk): a daily newspaper for peasants, issued by Central Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow, Russia, 1918-1931.
- Zhizn' Natsional'nostei, (Life of the Nationalities): a journal published by Narkomnats in Moscow, 1918-1924.
The Soviet newspaper industry began in the underground movements that created Pravda, meaning truth, which on 5 May 1912 was published as a political newspaper. Pravda did not start as a political publication, but instead was a journal on social life. Yet in 1912 Vladimir Lenin would decide that the party needed a voice in the news industry and that Pravda could convey the party wishes.
The government subsidization allowed the newspapers to be priced low and distributed widely. Newspapers were distributed by government administrations, and had three streams of revenue. One stream were subscriptions that people would pay to read. A second was advertisements, with some papers having more than others, an example being that evening newspapers in the major cities, which were popular advertisement vehicles because they had the widest audience base. Lastly, newspapers received very substantial subsidies from their parent organization. Subsequently, the Soviet system had no capital costs, as subsidies would cover them. Thus if the Central Committee of the Communist Party decided to publish a paper it would build the plant, equip it, and then turn it over to the Newspaper company. Yet, there were attempts to achieve economies of scale, and major publications would produce smaller more class-oriented papers because the parent government administration publishing the paper would cover the capital investments. This capital investment cost coverage, which was not limited to a single production plant, allowed papers such as Pravda, to be distributed across the entire Soviet Union in one morning, a feat which Western papers such as the New York Times would not achieve for twenty-five or more years. On the down side, the Soviets had set up a system in which everyone would receive their news at relatively the same time. Most of these stories came from the Telegraphic Agency of the Soviet Union, making it both a news agency and the main distributor of government information. And so, the Telegraphic Agency of the Soviet Union was similar to the United States White House Press Secretary heading the Associated Press. A side effect of the Telegraphic agency being the most important source was that many stories could not be covered until the agency itself had covered it. Also, this distribution of news by the government meant that not everyone could read the same publications. Governmental clearances thus dictated who could read what.
The time period from the New Economic Policy of 1921 to1928 to the “Great Break” of 1928 to 1932 comprises the period of large soviet press transformations. In the 1920s, during the New Economic Policy period, the Soviet Press was concerned with the education of the poorer classes. To achieve that, a broadly educated newspaper staff would be necessary. Yet, at the beginning of the 1920s, the Soviet Newspapers were not only under staffed, the journalists were themselves undereducated and they lacked any journalistic skill. Because of this, the Press Corps strived to raise the standards of the press, while at the same time maintaining strong party support from the journalists. During this time the Soviet Press’s main objective was to disseminate party ideology to the lower classes, but it also intended to act as the watchdog to protect the people from rising corruption, and as the emissary from the people to the party regime. This resulted in an apparent conflict of purpose. Soviet journalists prided themselves in their professionalism at this time, all while accepting the Bolshevik Party as the ruling authority. However, the Press Corps distrusted anyone who was a white-collar employee, or a member of the academia, believing that an individual’s class would predetermine their attitude towards the Bolshevik Party (the assumption being that white-collar professionals and academics looked unfavorably on the ruling Bolsheviks). Due to this assumption, the Press Corps had a preference for training members of the proletariat, or more specifically the poor or middle class peasants as journalists. Thus, a conflict arose between the desire to hire people the press corps trusted, and finding skilled journalists who could succeed in the goal of educating and equalizing the masses. However, the denial that this conflict existed led to the Soviet Newspapers to being staffed by persons with an uncomfortable combination of ideologies. The conflict ended when a large movement favoring party ideology and background emerged, culminating in 1924, when the State Institute of Journalism determined they would train only those with trusted ideological backgrounds to be journalists for the Soviet Newspapers. In reality, this was only a façade, as the institute continued to train members of academia and the white-collar class, with 29 percent of the admitted applicants having less than one year with the party Stazh (qualification course), which was the required minimum for former Komsomol (young communist) members. The supply of journalist students that fit the proper ideological background could not meet the demand for professional and competent journalists for the prestigious spots, which explains the large number of party switchers. Yet the façade was needed to convey party propaganda. The State Institute of Journalism broke its own ideological rules in order to meet its professional standards and goals by accepting better educated but less ideologically centered students.
The interesting and conflicted mix that occurred from the government’s need for party propaganda to be conveyed by individuals with journalistic skill was the true beginning of the professional Soviet News Media. Throughout the 1920s the State Institute of Journalism would continue to produce a standardized curriculum to meet their goals of producing competent and professional journalists, however, this led to a curriculum in a constant state of flux. Additionally, a clear class distinction developed between editors and journalists that would continue throughout the 1920s and even through the 1928 Shakhty trial, the beginning of “charges against class enemies.” The distinctions that began to form underlined the Communist parties fear of professionals and class systems. All of this culminated in the 1930s when the State Institute of Journalism ended its drive for professional journalism and standards purged the old faculty at the Institute of Journalism, and government officials revised the entire curriculum to meet propaganda goals.
Late Soviet Union
In 1988 the Soviet Union 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, constituting roughly 25 percent of the total circulation, although non-Russians made up almost 50 percent of the population.
Press technology in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s was based upon hot-type lead, which was behind that of their western counterparts, which had transitioned to cold type, photo type settings. This was largely due to the subsidy program, which took away from the news industries incentive to produce new technology by reducing competition. Although the technology in the Soviet Union print media was less advanced, the shortcomings were made up for by brute economic force. Working at a subsidized scale not present in the US allowed the Soviet press to widely distribute publications across the USSR.
Most of newspaper reporters and editors belonged to the Communist 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 Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
The party also sought to control journalists by combining higher education and Higher Party Schools with schools of journalism. 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.
In the late 1980s, newspapers gradually developed new formats and new issues. Under Yuri Andropov, Pravda began to print short reports of weekly Politburo meetings. Eventually, other major newspapers published accounts of these meetings as well.
Under Mikhail 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.
Letters to Editor
Originally, Vladimir 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 Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, who apparently believed the party needed no assistance from the people in identifying problems. But in 1981, Leonid Brezhnev created the Central Committee Letters Department, and later Andropov called for more letters to editors to expose corruption and mismanagement. Konstantin 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.
Translations of names given in parentheses.
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. Izvestiya (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. Izvestiya also contained official government information and general news and an expanded Sunday section composed of news analysis, feature stories, poetry, and cartoons.
The literary bimonthly Literaturnaya Gazeta (Literary Gazette) disseminated the views of the USSR Union of Writers and contained authoritative statements and perspectives concerning literature, plays, cinema, and literary issues of popular interest.
The major sports newspaper, Sovetskiy Sport, published by the government and VTsSPS, in cooperation with the National Council for Physical Culture and Sport, had a circulation of 5 million. The topics covered were all about sports news and features, and in the lead-up to various national and international sports competitions, gave a preview of the USSR's national team, the various national athletic teams and organizations, and various republican teams and athletes.
A weekly regional newspaper, Moskovskiye 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, Sotsialisticheskaya Industriya (Socialist Industry), a daily newspaper, concentrated on industrial and economic events, statistics, and human interest stories.
Republican and regional newspapers
Republican, regional, and local newspapers were published in dozens of languages, even very minor ones. For example, the Khakas language newspaper Lenin choly (Ленин чолы) printed around 6.000 copies, three times a week, for the around 60.000 speakers of the language. Below is a non-exhaustive table of those newspapers; it generally includes the most important newspaper published in each language, with their designation in the late 1980s.
|Original name||Transliterarion||Meaning||Republic/Region||Language||current name|
|Алтайдыҥ чолмоны||Altaydyn cholmony||The Star of Altai||Gorno-Altai AO||Altai||Алтайдыҥ чолмоны|
|Аҧсны ҟаҧш||Apsny kapsh||Red Abkhazia||Abkhaz ASSR||Abkhaz||Аҧсны|
|БагӀараб байрахъ||Baarab bairakh||Red Flag||Dagestan ASSR||Avar||XӀакъикъат|
|ביראָבידזשאנער שטערן||Birobidzhaner Shtern||Birobidzhan Star||Jewish AO||Yiddish||ביראָבידזשאנער שטערן|
|Буряад унэн||Buryad Unen||The Buryat Truth||Buryat ASSR||Buryat||Буряад үнэн|
|Дагестанская правда||Dagestanskaya Pravda||Daghestan's Truth||Dagestan ASSR||Russian|
|Edasi||--||Go Forth||Estonian SSR||Estonian||folded|
|Заря Востока||Zarya Vostoka||Eastern Dawn||Georgian SSR||Russian||Свободная Грузия / folded 2011|
|Звезда Алтая||Zvezda Altaya||The Star of Altai||Gorno-Altai AO||Russian|
|Казахстанская правда||Kazakhstaskaya Pravda||The Kazakh Truth||Kazakh SSR||Russian|
|Коммунизм алашара||Kommunizm alashara||The Light of Communism||Karachay–Cherkess AO||Abazin||Абазашта|
|Коммунизм ялавĕ||Kommunizm yalave||The Flag of Communism||Chuvash ASSR||Chuvash||Хыпар|
|Коммунист||Kommunist||The Communist||Dagestan ASSR||Lezgin||Лезги газет|
|Коммунист||Kommunist||The Communist||Armenian SSR||Russian|
|Коммунист||Kommunist||The Communist||Azerbaijan SSR||Azerbaijani|
|Коммунист Таджикистана||Kommunist Tadzhikistana||The Communist of Tajikistan||Tajik SSR||Russian|
|კომუნისტი||Komunisti||The Communist||Georgian SSR||Georgian|
|Красное знамя||Krasnoye Znamya||Red Flag||Komi ASSR||Russian|
|Кызыл таң||Kyzyl tan||Red Dawn||Bashkir ASSR||Tatar||Кызыл таң|
|Ленин байрагъы||Lenin bayragy||Lenin's Flag||Uzbek SSR||Crimean Tatar||Янъы дюнья|
|Ленин ёлу||Lenin yolu||Lenin's Path||Dagestan ASSR||Kumyk||Ёлдаш|
|Ленин йолы||Lenin yoly||Lenin's Path||Karachay–Cherkess AO||Nogai||Ногай давысы|
|Ленинан некъ||Leninan nek'||Lenin's Path||Chechen-Ingush ASSR||Chechen||Даймохк|
|레닌기치||lenin kichi||Lenin's Path||Kazakh SSR||Korean||고려일보|
|Ленин чолы||Lenin choly||Lenin's Path||Khakas AO||Khakas|
|Ленинская правда||Leninskaya Pravda||Lenin's Truth||Karelian ASSR||Russian||Курьер Карелии|
|Марий коммуна||Marii kommuna||The Mari Commune||Mari ASSR||Meadow Mari||Марий Эл|
|Молдова сочиалистэ||Moldova Socialistă||Socialist Moldavia||Moldavian SSR||Moldavian||Moldova Suverană|
|Мокшень правда||Mokshen' Pravda||The Moksha Truth||Mordovian ASSR||Moksha Mordvin||Мокшень правда|
|Neuvosto-Karjala||--||Soviet Karelia||Karelian ASSR||Finnish||Karjalan Sanomat|
|Правда Востока||Pravda Vostoka||The Eastern Truth||Uzbek SSR||Russian|
|Правда Севера||Pravda Severa||The Northern Truth||Arkhangelsk Oblast||Russian|
|Правда Украины||Pravda Ukraini||The Ukrainian Truth||Ukrainian SSR||Russian|
|Радянська Україна||Radyanska Ukraina||Soviet Ukraine||Ukrainian SSR||Ukrainian||Демократическая Украина|
|Rahva hääl||--||People's Voice||Estonian SSR||Estonian||folded|
|Р'йа т'әзә||Ria Taza||New Path||Armenian SSR||Kurdish|
|Рæстдзинад||Ræstdzinad||Truth||Northern Ossetian ASSR||Ossetian||Рæстдзинад|
|საბჭოთა აფხაზეთი||Sabchota Abkhazeti||Soviet Abkhazia||Abkhaz ASSR||Georgian||folded early 1990s|
|საბჭოთა აჭარა||Sabchota Adzhara||Soviet Adzharia||Adjar ASSR||Georgian|
|საბჭოთა ოსეთი||Sabchota Oseti||Soviet Ossetia||South Ossetian AO||Georgian||folded 1990|
|Совет Башҡортостаны||Sovet Bashkortostany||Soviet Bashkiria||Bashkir ASSR||Bashkir||Башҡортостан|
|Совет Каракалпакстаны||Sovet Karakalpakstany||Soviet Karakalpakstan||Karakalpak ASSR||Karakalpak||Еркин Қарақалпақстан|
|Совет кенди||Sovet kendi||Soviet village||Azerbaijan SSR||Azerbaijani|
|Совет Тожикистони||Sovet Tojikistoni||Soviet Tajikistan||Tajik SSR||Uzbek||Халқ овози|
|Совет Түркменистаны||Sovet Türkmenistany||Soviet Turkmenistan||Turkmen SSR||Turkmen||Türkmenistan|
|Совет Ўзбекистони||Sovet O'zbekistoni||Soviet Uzbekistan||Uzbek SSR||Uzbek||Oʻzbekiston ovozi|
|Սովետական Ղարաբաղ||Sovetakan Karabakh||Soviet Karabakh||Nagorno-Karabakh AO||Armenian|
|Սովետական Հայաստան||Sovetakan Hayastan||Soviet Armenia||Armenian SSR||Armenian|
|Սովետական Ղարաբաղ||Sovetakan Vrastan||Soviet Georgia||Georgian SSR||Armenian|
|Советтик Кыргызстан||Sovettik Kyrgyzstan||Soviet Kyrghizia||Kyrgyz SSR||Kyrgyz||Кыргыз туусу|
|Советон Ирыстон||Soveton Ironston||Soviet Ossetia||South Ossetian AO||Ossetian||Хурзæрин|
|Советская Абхазия||Sovetskaya Akbhazia||Soviet Abkhazia||Abkhaz ASSR||Russian|
|Советская Аджария||Sovetskaya Adzharia||Soviet Adzharia||Adjar ASSR||Russian|
|Советская Башкирия||Sovetskaya Bashkria||Soviet Bashkiria||Bashkir ASSR||Russian|
|Советская Белоруссия||Sovetskaya Belorussia||Soviet Byelorussia||Byelorussian SSR||Russian|
|Советская Киргизия||Sovetskaya Kirgizia||Soviet Kyrgyzstan||Kyrgyz SSR||Russian||Slovo Kyrgyzstana|
|Советская Латвия||Sovetskaya Latviya||Soviet Latvia||Latvian SSR||Russian||folded 1991|
|Советская Литва||Sovetskaya Litva||Soviet Lithuania||Lithuanian SSR||Russian|
|Советская Молдавия||Sovetskaya Moldavia||Soviet Moldova||Moldavian SSR||Russian|
|Советская Мордовия||Sovetskaya Mordovia||Soviet Mordovia||Mordovian ASSR||Russian||Известия Мордовии|
|Советская Россия||Sovetskaya Rossiya||Soviet Russia||Russian SFSR||Russian|
|Советская Татария||Sovetskaya Tatariya||Soviet Tatarstan||Tatar ASSR||Russian||Республика Татарстан|
|Советская Чувашия||Sovetskaya Chuvashiya||Soviet Chuvasia||Chuvash ASSR||Russian||Советская Чувашия|
|Советская Эстония||Sovetskaya Estoniya||Soviet Estonia||Estonian SSR||Russian||Эстония|
|Советской Удмуртия||Sovetskoi Udmurtia||Soviet Udmurtia||Udmurt ASSR||Udmurt||Удмурт дунне|
|Социалистическэ Адыгей||Sotsialisticheske Adygey||Socialist Adyghea||Adyghe AO||Adyghe||Адыгэ макъ|
|Социалистік Қазақстан||Sotsialistik Qazaqstan||Socialist Kazakhstan||Kazakh SSR||Kazakh||Егемен Қазақстан|
|Социалистик Татарстан||Sotsialistik Tatarstan||Socialist Tatarstan||Tatar ASSR||Tatar||Ватаным Татарстан|
|Тоҷикистони Советӣ||Todzhikiston Sovetii||Soviet Tajikistan||Tajik SSR||Tajik||Джумхурият|
|Tiesa||--||Truth||Lithuanian SSR||Lithuanian||folded 1994|
|Туркменская искра||Turkmenskaya Iskra||The Turkmen Spark||Turkmen SSR||Russian|
|Cīņa||--||The Fight||Latvian SSR||Latvian|
|Шарк Капысы||Şərq Qapısı||The Gate of the East||Nakhichevan ASSR||Azerbaijani||Şərq Qapısı|
|Czerwony Sztandar||--||The Red Flag||Lithuanian SSR||Polish||Kurier Wileński|
|Хальмг Унн||Khalmg Unn||The Kalmyk Truth||Kalmyk ASSR||Kalmyk||Хальмг үнн|
|Шийүәди чи||Shiyüadi chi||Flag of October||Kyrgyz SSR||Dungan||Хуэймин бо|
|Эрзянь правда||Erzyan Pravda||The Erzya Truth||Mordovian ASSR||Erzya Mordvin||Эрзян Мастор|
|Югыд туй||Yugyd Tui||The Milky Way||Komi ASSR||Komi||Коми му|
Magazines and journals
In the late 1980s, weekly, monthly, and quarterly magazines and journals numbered almost 5,500 and had a circulation nearly equal to that of the daily newspapers. The same CPSU regulations and guidelines that applied to newspapers extended to magazines and journals. In the mid-1980s, under the regime's less-restrictive censorship policy, both magazines and journals published articles and stories to fill in historical "blank spots." These articles included works of past and contemporary authors once banned and new works that challenged the limits imposed on literary society by previous leaders. Assessments and criticisms of past leaderships exposed many historical atrocities, particularly those committed under Stalin. As a result, in the late 1980s the number of subscribers to periodicals climbed considerably, and magazines and journals frequently sold out at kiosks within minutes.
In the late 1980s, these magazines and journals created reverberations throughout society with their publication of controversial articles.
Krokodil (Crocodile), one of the most popular magazines with a circulation of approximately 6 million, contained humor and satire and featured excellent artistic political cartoons and ideological messages.
Such journals as Ogonyok (Little Fire), a weekly that became more popular in the late 1980s because of its insightful political exposes, human interest stories, serialized features, and pictorial sections, had an audience of over 2 million people. In 1986 it published excerpted works by the previously banned writer Nikolai Gumilev, who was shot in 1921 after being accused of writing a counterrevolutionary proclamation. In 1988 it also published excerpts of poetry from Yuliy Daniel, imprisoned after a famous 1966 trial for publication of his work abroad.
Novy Mir (New World), one of the most controversial and often original literary reviews, attracted widespread readership among the intelligentsia. The monthly publication reached nearly 2 million readers and concentrated on new prose, poetry, criticism, and commentary. Many previously banned works were published in its pages, most notably Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. (The publication of Doctor Zhivago in the West not only resulted in Pasternak's expulsion from the Union of Writers in 1956 but won him the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature.)
Oktyabr (October), a journal resembling Novy Mir in content, circulation, and appeal, espoused more conservative viewpoints. Nevertheless, Anna Akhmatova's "Requiem" a poetic tribute to those who perished during Stalin's purges, appeared in its November 1987 issue.
Sovetskaya Kultura (Soviet Culture), a journal with broad appeal, published particularly biting indictments of collectivization, industrialization, and the purges of the 1930s. In 1988 the journal published articles indirectly criticizing Lenin for sanctioning the establishment of the system of forced labor camps.
The Soviet Press conducted pre-publication censorship under an organization called Glavlit, which was the chief administrative arm of the censorship of the Press, and had a presence in every newsroom. The press provided the transmission belt by which these organizations sent information to their representatives in the general public. Each had censors to insure that the journalist did not go further than were allowed by the government that would read through every article prior to publication. This degree of censorship was not only for soviet writers but foreign correspondents who wrote for western publications.
East Germany presented a unique situation, separate from the other eastern bloc countries in that it shared allied occupation. Following the Second World War, of the six major newspapers in print within occupied Berlin, western governments controlled two and the other four were published by Soviet entities. The post war phenomena presented an opportunity to study the Soviet Print Media as compared to the French and the US controlled papers operating in the same region. Phillip Davison, then Chief of the Plans and Directives Branch, Information Control Division of the U.S. Office of Military Government, Berlin, found through an objective mathematical analyses of the news content published in each of the six papers, that while the western affiliates presented balanced articles on most subjects, that is both the positive and negative side of the story, that the Soviet sponsored papers tended to publish articles with either a very positive or a very negative bias, and rarely both. Furthermore, in his December 1946 analysis, the Soviet favorable stories dominated the print space, followed by a lesser yet still prominent number of stories that ridiculed western events.
Davison’s analysis is represented in figure one. He tabulated the numbers of references made to the subjects, mostly countries and the United Nations, and gave them either a plus one, for favorable, and minus one for unfavorable, or a neutral rating. The Western affiliated papers have more similar values for both favorable and unfavorable for most subjects evaluated where the Soviets leaned more heavily on one side or the other of a subject. C.F refers to Communist Party, Pro-S are the pro Soviet countries, and G.& I. refers to Greece and Iran, who were included due to the heavy news coverage given them in all Berlin papers. In December 1946 Davison refers to the more balanced approach of the western new subject selection, “News for News Value,” as contrasted with the Soviet style of reporting which selected news items for propaganda purposes.
The US controlled paper, Tagesspiegel, had directives to preserve a “non-partisan” attitude, and that it could not print Nazi material, damage Military Security, or maliciously attack an Occupying Power, but the editors were otherwise free to choose news material. General Robert A McClure, Chief of Military Governments Office of Information Control further exhorted all papers to give balanced treatment to the news. He admonished that any paper found to feature items favorable or unfavorable towards an Occupying Power while suppressing the opposite point of view would be disciplined. Conversely, under the direction of the Socialist Unity Party, the Soviet papers limited the content of the news coverage received by their citizens in order to protect the state, and in that it should be controlled by the political parties. In an interview of two leaders of the Russian-sponsored Socialist Unity Party, they kindly instructed an American reporter from the DANA agency that: “To promote such a program (socialism), the SED considers complete freedom of the press, which the Western Zones are trying to achieve, as undesirable. It is in favor of a ‘paternal democracy.” And, “The party leader based these proposals on the opinion that the German people were not capable of making up their minds and that they therefore were not yet ready for the free press.” The objective analysis provided in Davison’s charts does not quite illustrate the rancor of the language used in some of the articles to demean the west and uphold the Soviet image. Examples would be: “In the West [zone of Berlin] land reform has remained an empty promise. The powers of the (Nazi) Reich Food Office guide food policy and are in the last analysis responsible for the complete breakdown of food distribution in the West.” Compared to the juxtaposition from the same article: “The energetic and purposeful conduct of land reform in the East Zone has not only led to the neutralization of the most reactionary forces in Germans, but at the same time had assured the populations’ food supply.” In short, the western efforts are “empty promises,” and are responsible for the “complete breakdown,” of food distribution, while the Soviets are “energetic and purposeful.” In summary, while the western new media values objective and balanced reporting, the Soviets in Berlin used the news media to further doctrine and limit the information received by the citizens living in the Soviet controlled Eastern zone of Berlin.
In the Eastern Bloc much like the rest of Soviet Union the means of mass communication were operated and owned by various state ministries. However, in some Eastern Bloc countries local newspapers were allowed greater freedom then that of their Russian counterparts, these special cases include Yugoslavia, Poland, and Hungary. The liberalization of the news in these countries is largely due to the rise of nationalism among them, specifically in Yugoslavia under the rule of Josip Broz Tito, while Albania and Romania continued to exist under strict censorship control. And so, the eastern bloc countries offer an interesting case of similar news policies with widely differing media functions.
Internal (Soviet News Industry)
The Soviet press’s purpose differed from the western press in that the Soviet papers also served as public forums to criticize and improve the function of businesses and institutions serving the communities. For example, a worker might send a letter to a local paper describing how his place of business could build more widgets per day if the factory kept more replacement parts in stock. Then if that letter had been written clearly enough, or could be edited easily, and the content was considered to have enough value, and the censors approved, it would be published in the local paper for the entire community to read rather than merely being brought-up in an improvement meeting held within the business.
The Soviet press was passionate about the role of improving the function of society, solving problems, and squelching corruption. In such, the journalists’ complaints had more to do with lack of space for important issues in the smaller regional print media and over repetition of large political issues already given coverage in the major papers than any criticism political propaganda because they worked as “organs of the ruling party.”
Following World War II the Soviet press became more concerned about the “stylistic perfection” of journalists and started to reduce the number of published letters from actual workers in favor of more professionally written articles. In one such example, in the early 1950s the party’s Gorky oblast paper (a small regional) had 1,890 worker correspondents and 1,150 village correspondents, and reduced that to 530 and 550 respectively. Young journalists working as editors of these submissions from workers and villagers had complained that the “re-writing” was a type of “donkey-work” and was less dignified than writing for other departments. These opinions, though rejected by the papers, were a sign of the underlying loss of consciousness of the traditional functions of the press.
The function of being the community’s forum for criticism meant that the papers received letters that ranged in subject matter from a girl criticizing a boyfriend’s mother (which did get published) to calling out party officials on corruption. The editors then needed to make delicate judgments on what subjects to investigate in order to authenticate, and when to publish anonymously in order to protect the author from recrimination. Advice was even given to punish those who took revenge on the authors of published criticisms.
From Schlesinger’s writing on the subject it is clear that the journalists he reviewed felt that this was not always done in the best manner and that the time and energy required to sort through criticisms from such a broad field of correspondents resulted in important content being lost in the melee. The number of censorships it must pass through further bogged down journalistic content. “No line can go to press without the initials of the acting editor and, additionally, of the responsible [party] secretary.” Add to that the problem that the editorial staff and party secretary often had no education on the subject they were tasked to vet, and important content was often completely lost.
The most frequent criticism by the journalists was on the lack of the institutions to react to the complaints published about them. As a case in point, Romanov noted that Stroitelnaya Gazeta received no replies to the 112 critical articles or the 575 forwarded letters to the institutions regarding the “pleas for relief.” He added that that specific example was in no way exceptional.
To the Soviets, the press represented the public, and took pride in creating change such as how drunk drivers who had caused a death were prosecuted. The journalists expressed frustration, though; in how other court cases were reported. For example, because the press wanted to convey faith that offenders would be caught and punished, the papers would not publish articles on crimes where no perpetrator had been identified. Particularly offensive was the lack of press on murders where no suspect was prosecuted.
An old Soviet joke was that “there is no information in Izvestia, there is no truth in Pravda,” Izvestia meaning information and Pravda meaning truth. Thus, the Russian populace regarded the major publications with a great deal of cynicism. The papers were, however, information transmission belts, so people would try to decipher what was going on by reading them. Soviet papers were written in such a way that the beginnings of articles would have a list of what was going well, and then would transition with a “however” to the real news. So, many people would read from the “however” in the hopes to get at the real story.
Censorship & propaganda:
- Eastern Bloc information dissemination
- Censorship of images in the Soviet Union
- Censorship in the Soviet Union
- Propaganda in the Soviet Union
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies. - Soviet Union