WASHINGTON — Fourteen news media executives, saying they are "deeply distressed" at the arrest and detention of American reporter Nicholas Daniloff in Moscow, asked top Soviet officials Monday for meetings in the Soviet capital to discuss his release.
In a telegram, the media executives sought permission to send a delegation "at the earliest possible date" to talk about the Daniloff case "and questions of journalistic activity in the Soviet Union."
The telegram to three Soviet officials called Daniloff, who is a Moscow correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, "an exemplary journalist" and warned that his continued detention "needlessly worsens relations" between the Soviet Union and the United States.
The group requested meetings with Kremlin leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the former Soviet ambassador to the United States, Anatoly F. Dobrynin, and Alexander N. Yakovlev, who, like Dobrynin, is a secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee.
A Soviet Embassy spokesman had no immediate comment on the Americans' request. Daniloff was arrested Aug. 30 and charged with espionage. U.S. officials believe he was seized in retaliation for the Aug. 23 arrest in New York on spy charges of Gennady F. Zhakarov, a Soviet physicist employed by the United Nations.
At a news conference, the executives, representing print and broadcasting news organizations and several national journalism associations, said they undertook their initiative to assert their independent position in the matter, but they said the State Department is aware of their action.
"We are not a part of government," said Eugene L. Roberts, executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, "and we think it is a mistake to let only government do our talking for us."
Mortimer B. Zuckerman, chairman and editor in chief of U.S. News & World Report, wearing a red, white and blue "Free Nicholas Daniloff" button, rejected as "outrageous" the idea of swapping Daniloff for Zhakarov and described the American as a "hostage."
Voicing the outrage expressed by many news executives since Daniloff's arrest, Richard J.V. Johnson, president of the Houston Chronicle, said: "This business of seizing Western journalists who are simply trying to do their jobs of reporting the news simply must stop."
The telegram said that the media executives seek the meetings "in the hopes that we can help resolve this matter and avoid similar misunderstandings in the future."