Soviet editor criticizes lack of openness

The Soviet news media still face taboos and high-level resistance in their efforts to practice glasnost (openness), according to the country's senior newspaper editor. Viktor Afanasyev, editor of the Communist Party daily Pravda, made it clear that active resistance to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reform policies persists inside the party Central Committee.

Opening the Congress of the Journalists Union on Saturday, Mr. Afanasyev spoke of the ``wide choice of methods'' used to prevent criticism or blunt its impact; and he attacked the lenient punishment often given to those found guilty of mistakes or crimes. The tone of the opening speeches, which were summarized at length in yesterday's newspapers, suggest that the congress may mark the intensification of the political struggle against those hostile to Mr. Gorbachev's reforms.

One ``simple but rather powerful'' method of limiting criticism, Afanasyev told the congress, was for the first secretary of a regional party organization - most of whom have Central Committee status - to criticize the national press during a party congress or plenum of the Central Committee. In this way, Afanasyev said, a new taboo is born: Any criticism of that particular regional body could be interpreted as an effort by the media to take its revenge on the regional organization.

Afanasyev, himself a member of the Central Committee, also spoke of the way wrongdoers are sometimes protected by their superiors. ``Those in high places look jealously after their departmental interests.''

He cited two major ``forbidden zones'' for journalistic criticism. One is the space program, about which journalists are obliged to write that everything is fine, instead of pointing out ``how dangerous and heroic is the work of cosmonauts.''

The other was the issue of the environment. Under the present leadership, this has become a vehicle for criticism of the massive and (it is thought) ill-conceived development schemes of Gorbachev's predecessors; it is also used to illustrate the grim determination of large segments of the bureaucracy to resist political reforms. In his speech, Afanasyev said that his paper, Pravda, needed the assistance of a member of the party Secretariat before it could run articles on some of the major environmental problems facing the country.

Gorbachev is generally felt to have consolidated his control over the central party organs, and apparently enjoys the strong support of most of the national media. Glasnost remains Gorbachev's main political weapon in the fight against conservativism and incompetence. His grip on the regional party organizations, however, is less sure. A little more than one-third of the regional first secretaries have been replaced since Gorbachev came to power.

The first secretaries enjoy considerable autonomy, and are able if they so desire to pressure local newspapers to play down criticism. In the provinces, said a journalist from the Ukraine, newspapers are ``often powerless in the face of officials who hide behind the palisade of bureaucratic instructions.''

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