MOSCOW — American television networks protested Tuesday that their camera crews covering a demonstration by Jewish refuseniks were roughed up by what one TV correspondent termed "government-sanctioned goons."
A Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman, Gennady I. Gerasimov, said he will look into the matter and try to find out who is responsible for damaging cameras and other TV equipment.
It was the latest in a long series of harassment by thugs who show up at demonstration sites and attack Western television crews with the tacit approval of uniformed police on the scene, the American correspondents said.
Wyatt Andrews, CBS News correspondent here, said the unidentified assailants have used wire cutters and knives a dozen times this year to slash cables that are needed to operate the video cameras. Two protests, including one sent by CBS President William Stringer, have gone unanswered, Andrews said.
"We consider it outrageous and unnecessary," he added. "We don't think there's any question that these are government-sanctioned goons."
Sandy Gilmour, the NBC-TV News bureau chief, said one of his crews was thrown to the ground by the unidentified assailants and a cable was cut to prevent taking of pictures.
A similar assault was reported by Peter Arnett, the Moscow bureau chief of Cable News Network.
They were trying to cover a demonstration outside the Moscow visa office by half a dozen Jews protesting the denial of permission to leave the Soviet Union.
Andrews and Gilmour protested publicly at Gerasimov's regular news briefing and demanded a halt to harassment of TV crews operating on Moscow streets.
"I don't know about the factual side of events," Gerasimov said. "We'll try to make inquiries as to this particular case."
Meanwhile, Jewish dissident Josef Begun obtained an exit visa after a 16-year wait, but family members still say they will not be leaving for Israel.
His son, Boris, also offered a visa, said that authorities refused his request to remain a Soviet citizen and that the whole family will not leave Moscow until the problem is solved.
Josef Begun, 54, freed from jail under a Kremlin pardon in February, was originally granted permission to emigrate in September but was told that Boris, 32, could not leave without the consent of his parents-in-law. Josef refused to go to Israel without his son.
Then the visa-issuing authority OVIR summoned Josef, saying it was waiving the parental permission requirement for Boris.
OVIR officials offered Boris visas for himself, his wife, Jana, and their two small children, but Boris refused them because they were conditional on his renouncing Soviet citizenship.
"I want to stay a Soviet citizen so that it will be easier for me to come back and visit relatives," Boris told reporters.