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Western TV Shows Still Aren't for Everyone in Poland : Putting a Dish on an Apartment Block Too Much for Authorities

November 14, 1987|CHARLES T. POWERS | Times Staff Writer

POZNAN, Poland — To Stefan Orvat, it looked like a logical, wonderful idea. He had seen, in the backyards or on the roofs of some of the larger houses in town, the big round dish antennas that pull in television programs from Western Europe.

Since Orvat's job with the Union of Housing Cooperatives in Poznan is to service the television antennas that stand atop high-rise apartment buildings around the city, it was a natural step to propose the experiment: Why not put a dish on top of an apartment block and wire the whole building into it?

In many places in the world, this would not seem a difficult problem.

But in this part of the world, currently struggling with glasnost and perestroika --reform and reconstruction--in various stages, there is a continuing conflict between the liberalizing impulse and the need, as governments see it, to set limits, impose restraint and rein in expectations before they gallop off out of control.

The wary governments of Eastern Europe might well adopt an expression used by weary parents of mischievous children: "Give them an inch, and they'll take a mile."

Dish antennas made their appearance in Poland about two years ago, and since then the government has granted about 3,000 licenses for their use to individuals--mostly to those few citizens who can afford the cost, up to $3,000, of the dish and the receiver.

For individual applicants, getting the two required licenses--the first authorizes purchase of the equipment, the second its installation--is usually a matter of merely waiting for the paper work to move through the toils of the proper agencies.

"It's easy," said Piotr Paleczny, a concert pianist who has obtained the licenses and is waiting for delivery of the equipment from a manufacturer in Britain, where he purchased it on a recent concert tour. He plans to install it on the roof of the Warsaw apartment building where he lives.

"I will be able to get 23 to 25 programs," Paleczny said, with the enthusiasm of a salesman.

He said he looks forward especially to programs on the "arts channel" and, for his 10-year-old son, the "children's program." Both are beamed via satellite from Britain. He also anticipates the European broadcast of the American Cable News Network, which he thinks will be "interesting."

But it is just such interesting programming that causes concern to Polish authorities. They do not worry much about individuals like Piotr Paleczny, a sophisticated world traveler, but the prospect of the Western mass media suddenly being available to a mass Polish audience is another matter.

Apparently two entire apartment buildings and 280 families--this is what Stefan Orvat tied together in Poznan--stretched the limits of the possible, at least for the time being.

"People liked it," said Orvat, a tall, raw-boned man who wore a loose-fitting gray suit for an interview in the office of his employer, the Department of Elevator and Antenna Maintenance in the Poznan Union of Housing Cooperatives. The teen-agers, he said, particularly liked the program called "Music Box" on a rock video channel from West Germany, but the whole idea was widely popular.

Orvat organized the experiment himself, raising money by contribution and subscription to spread out the cost of the equipment, which was purchased on a trial basis. From its position on the roof of one of the buildings, the dish could be focused on any of three different satellites (Poland is on the eastern fringe of the reception area), and would bring programs from each. Periodically the dish was moved to experiment with different programs. The experiment lasted a month and "was a big success," Orvat said.

Then the dish came down. It has not gone back up.

The Poznan office of the State Radio Inspectorate consulted its regulations and found a rule clearly stating that licenses for satellite antennas can be issued only to individuals.

Jan Chrzanowski, the amiable, easy-smiling head of the office in Poznan, wears an expression that seems naturally apologetic. He pointed out that the rules were written not by him but someone in Warsaw. In any case, he said, Orvat's system did not work very well. Orvat, of course, disagrees.

Meanwhile, in Warsaw, the source of the regulations, the Ministry of Communications, under whose authority the State Radio Inspectorate operates, has been merged with the Ministry of Transport, as the government of Poland reorganizes and reluctantly shrinks.

According to Wladislaw Urbanski, a director of the radio inspectorate, new regulations may clarify the problem, as soon as a recommendation is issued by the Institute of Communications, a research group whose exact position in the agency command structure seems momentarily unclear. Urbanski said he did not know when the report might be issued. And he denied that political considerations were involved.

"People are always saying that," he said, "but they're wrong. It's basically a technical problem."

He was not persuaded by Orvat's experiment in Poznan.

"Hobbyists," he said. "Two or three hobbyists got together."

Such a makeshift system would not meet the critical standards of the State Radio Inspectorate, he indicated.

"No one took the measure of this thing and no one knows how it works," he said, adding that in any case it is possible that in a few months "these permissions will no longer be required."

It was a way of acknowledging that, in a time of reform, anything can happen. In the meantime, rules are rules.

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