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SOVIET UNION : TV's Face of Glasnost, Vladimir Pozner, Quits as State Tightens Reins

April 27, 1991|MICHAEL PARKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — The television newsman who became one of the first faces of glasnost five years ago with candid programs discussing the failures of Soviet socialism has quit amid mounting fears that tightening state control of the broadcast media is again turning it into a political monopoly.

Vladimir Pozner, who has ranked as one of the most popular personalities on Soviet television each year for the past five, said that staying with the State Committee for Television and Radio would have required an unacceptable compromise in journalistic principles.

"A journalist has a duty to comment on what he believes is happening and report what he sees as truth," Pozner said. "But when you are told in advance that you cannot talk critically about this or that, here President (Mikhail S.) Gorbachev and his policies, then you compromise or quit."

Pozner's departure was viewed as part of what Soviet intellectuals and journalists feel is the reversal of glasnost, the policy of openness, that Gorbachev used after coming to power in 1985 to begin the Soviet Union's democratization.

"For five years, we went around flinging open all the doors and windows of this state, letting people see what has gone on and letting them take part in the decisions that affect their lives," the editor of a newspaper said this week at the congress of the Soviet Union of Journalists. "Yes, there were a lot of dirty secrets, things the bosses wanted to keep hidden, painful things, material we agonized over before publishing it. . . . But how, without exposing all that was wrong and getting the ideas of the people on what we should do, can we begin to put our society right?"

Pozner, who gave up promotion to the coveted position of a top political commentator when he quit State Television, charged that the reorganization of the central government's broadcast media under Leonid P. Kravchenko, the new chairman of State Television Committee, was turning it "from state television and radio, which was tolerable, into 'presidential' television and radio, which isn't."

"Kravchenko was very candid with us--we were on the president's team and we were to support him and his policies, period," Pozner said. "After Kravchenko was appointed (last November), he gathered us all together and said that he would not allow any further criticism of the president or his policies. He certainly has been true to his word."

The most popular program on Soviet television, Vzglyad, an innovative but irreverent current affairs show, was taken off the air in January. Three young newscasters who had offered an alternative view to the main evening news show were dismissed last month. And Radio Rossiya, the lively radio station of Boris N. Yeltsin's Russian Federation, lost its main channels.

"To develop democracy, we need alternative views--that's basic," Pozner said. "What we are getting, however, is a return to the political monopoly; this time it's not the party view of things, but the Gorbachev view."

Pozner, 57, plans to establish himself as an independent television journalist, continuing to work with the State Television Committee, if his conditions are met, but developing programs for the proliferation of local television.

Some would find irony in his resignation, Pozner acknowledged, for he had worked for 21 years in state radio and television, sometimes defending Soviet actions he now admits were indefensible.

"How did I suddenly get religion?" he said. "I think there was an integrity in my work over the years, but the main point is that we are moving into democracy and this step (presidential control) is retrogressive. . . .

"Freedom of the press is a lot like that genie who is released from the bottle, and there is no way he's going to be stuffed back in. As journalists, we might be criticized for not living up to our professed ideals in the past, and that is all the more reason why we must try to do so now."

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