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Media : Post-Glasnost Pravda Tries Slick Look to Pitch Party Line : Moscow's media chiefs hope blue ink, black magic and capitalist aspirations can save the voice of the Communist revolution.

June 05, 1990|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — For inquiring Ivans worried about the future, the organ of the Communist Party produced a presumably qualified source: the official spokesman of the 400-year-old Russian Order of Sorcerers.

For the record, the sorcerer prophesied to Pravda on a recent weekend that the Soviet Union would overcome its economic difficulties within five years, possibly assisted by beings he said were circling the globe in flying saucers.

Now citing black magic, and not just Marxism, the newspaper founded in 1912 to promote Communist revolution in Russia has a new look and style, although its front page still carries the call "Workers of the World, Unite!"

This year, Vladimir I. Lenin's journalistic offspring has been experimenting with color--but only one color at a time--on Sundays. One day last month, most of Pravda's last page was covered with paid advertisements, including one for the West German airline Lufthansa. Forerunners of the current editors would no doubt have denounced it all as capitalist propaganda. But not now. "We're being offered $30,000 or more per advertisement," Pravda's editor in chief, Ivan T. Frolov, noted recently, his pride evident.

Frolov, a philosopher and former adviser to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, was parachuted into the editor's chair last October. He is not a journalist in the Western sense. But like a socialist version of British publisher Rupert Murdoch, he has begun to dream of founding a multi-media empire to convey the Communist Party line to the nation.

"We would like to have a unified printing house, a sort of publishing amalgamation," Frolov, 60, said during a recent visit to Los Angeles. "Of course, this amalgamation would also have its own television station--Pravda Television.

"To do all this, I'd need $1 billion to $2 billion," the white-haired Frolov added wistfully.

The use of blue ink to print headlines on Sundays, the article about Russian sorcery, and Frolov's vision of a Pravda-based publishing empire spring from the same impetus: the collapse of Pravda's readership under glasnost and the emerging new rules of the Soviet media game.

From 11 million, the circulation of the flagship party daily has plummeted to around 6.5 million, although Frolov says it is now showing a modest rise. Soviet newspaper readership on the whole is down--" glasnost has allowed the printing of bad news, and people are now tired of it," Frolov says--but a number of papers still print in the millions. And Pravda's readership is now dwarfed by the 20-million circulations of Komsomolskaya Pravda, the more daring Communist youth daily, and Trud, a paper printed by the labor unions.

The political implications of this must be worrisome to party officials in charge of propaganda. Now that other political parties are legal in the Soviet Union, the Communist Party Central Committee, Pravda's publisher of record, must learn to sell its ideas in the marketplace. And if Pravda's fall from grace is any indication, it needs to retool its sales pitch.

On Jan. 1, a "new look" Pravda appeared, with eight pages instead of six, a portrait of a left-looking Lenin beside the nameplate and a splashier and bolder design, although one that would still look dense and gray beside most Western dailies.

The paper resumed printing a "Discussion Sheet" of various points of view on current affairs, a favorite feature of one of Frolov's predecessors, Nikolai Bukharin, who was purged by Josef Stalin in the 1930s and later executed.

This month, a "Pravda festival" was held at exposition grounds in north Moscow to bring together editors, readers and VIPs, including Gorbachev.

"I find nothing more refreshing than good analysis," Frolov told the Moscow press corps when it assembled in Pravda's offices last fall to hear what plans he would pursue as editor.

But the appointment of the former chief of the party theoretical journal Kommunist has done nothing readily apparent to make much of Pravda's contents more decipherable to the average Soviet citizen. For example, take that weekend issue in which Pravda quoted self-described Russian wizard Yuri V. Tarasov--although without endorsing his views.

On that day, U.S. dailies topped their front page with news of the superpowers agreeing during Secretary of State James A. Baker III's visit to Moscow on limits for air- and sea-launched cruise missiles, a key issue in a new strategic arms treaty with important implications for the coming U.S.-Soviet summit.

Pravda put the story on Page 5, where, it is true, it is customary to find foreign-related news. But reproducing a Tass dispatch, its long report began: "The talks with U.S.A. State Secretary J. Baker exceeded the calculated agenda, although this time from the very beginning they had been scheduled to last longer than usual."

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