The Soviets, or at least their television news broadcasts, are coming to Orange County.
KOCE Channel 50, the county's Public Broadcasting Station, announced Friday that it will air "Vremya," the Soviet Union's official, government-produced nightly newscast, weeknights at 11:30 beginning Feb. 12 for a two-week trial run.
A spokesman for WGBH in Boston, which is coordinating the broadcasts, said they will be delivered by satellite to about 30 U.S. markets the same day they are aired in the Soviet Union and will carry English-language, voice-over translations.
The WGBH official thinks the number of channels carrying the program may grow, but at this point, KOCE may be the only place where Southland viewers can catch Vremya. Spokesmen for KCET in Los Angeles, KPBS in San Diego and KVCR in San Bernardino all said that there is now no room on their stations' schedules to accommodate the program.
Vremya--which means "time" in Russian--is said to be the most-watched newscast in the world, seen by 150 million people each night in the Soviet Union.
"We feel this is an opportunity to experience the Soviet Union and the world through their eyes," said Roberta Smith, KOCE's programming director. "With all the monumental changes taking place in the Soviet Union, it should have quite an impact on the viewers to see how the Soviets view themselves, uncolored through the U.S. press. It's a fascinating window."
Although some may consider it an anachronism, or an outrage, for a Soviet news broadcast to be shown in such a bastion of conservatism as Orange County, Armando Ruiz, president of the Coast Community College District Board of Trustees which holds KOCE's license, is not concerned.
"This is going to be an opportunity to provide a service to the community and have the community react to that," Ruiz said. "(Channel 50 is) a public service, which does not advocate anything, but just shows programs for the educational value they have."
Vremya is being made available free to PBS stations by International Video Broadcasts Inc. in Fairfax, Va., which has an agreement with the Soviet, state-controlled television network for exclusive U.S. rights to its broadcasts. The program is translated into English by Soviet nationals working for IVB.
The effort to distribute Vremya in the United States began 18 months ago, according to Alan Foster, executive producer of WGBH's news department. Seeking alternative, late-night programming for PBS stations, Foster sought to obtain foreign news broadcasts.
"(When) I began on the trail of Vremya, I learned that IVB had secured the rights," Foster said. "I tried again six weeks ago and found that IVB also had trouble finding buyers. I told them that if they could give us translated programs on a quick turnaround, I could deliver a core group of stations."
(Among the buyers IVB had been able to find on its own was KSCI, a Los Angeles UHF independent which aired Vremya for two weeks last month. "The response was terrific," said Rosemary Fincher Danon, KSCI's general manager. "The cards and letters--and quality of the cards and letters--we received were far beyond what we had hoped for. The comments showed that really well-read people were watching out of a sincere interest in international politics.")
Foster said he informed public television stations nationwide via Teletype Thursday that Vremya was available, and by Friday had added eight stations to the original list of 22.
The key to Vremya's future on U.S. television, after the two-week trial, is finding a corporate sponsor. "We're looking for someone who's altruistic enough--or has the self-interest--to spend the money to have the Soviet view come to us and see how free \o7 glasnost\f7 really is," Foster said.
Foster said Vremya will look like U.S. newscasts. "In the same way the Soviets are coming around to embrace aspects of capitalism, their television is also reshaping," he said. "Vremya is quite a bit more sophisticated than it was six months ago. When the Soviets have a breaking story or an internal crisis, we might see some footage Western sources don't have."
Foster rebukes suggestions that the show could be propaganda. "As long as you know where it's coming from, there's no way information can be dangerous. To those who still feel belligerent to the Soviets and still consider them enemies, it's important to know how the enemy thinks. Understanding people from another superpower makes the world a safer place."