The topic, once again, was glasnost. The new Soviet policy of openness dominated the discussion yesterday between American and Soviet journalists, who ``met'' here to analyze the role of the media in East-West relations. A team of reporters from each country conversed via an international teleconference, which kicked off the annual gathering of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
The Soviet team, led by state television and radio commentator Vladimir Pozner, said glasnost has enabled Soviet reporters to publicize problematic issues in the USSR, such as drug abuse, alcoholism, and corruption by some government officials. But the new aggressiveness, so far, has not been extended to coverage of Soviet foreign policy, said a representative from the paper Izvestia.
The Soviet team criticized the American press for inconsistent or biased reporting about the Soviet Union - and for using negative stereotypes to portray Soviet citizens. Mr. Pozner, who has become highly visible in the US through his radio and television appearances, said the Soviet news media, too, has focused on the negative aspects of the US - such as crime and unemployment. ``It is important to show the whole picture,'' he said.
Panelist Stuart Loory, a Cable News Network correspondent who spent five years in Moscow, said Americans ``have a more stereotyped view'' of the Soviet Union than [Soviet citizens] do of the United States. They have ``a great deal of admiration'' for America, he said. ``They don't believe it [negative stereotypes], but our public does.''
The international teleconference, or spacebridge, was accomplished through the use of two satellites. Images and sound recorded from the San Francisco site travel first to a nearby facility, where they are uplinked to an American domestic satellite. The signal is received at a station in West Virginia, and then bounced to a second satellite 32,000 miles above the Atlantic Ocean before reaching its final destination in a Moscow television studio. Images and sound from the Soviet studio follow the same path in reverse.
Spacebridges are being used increasingly to bring together Americans and Soviets who are leaders in their fields, including health and science. Journalists from both countries have also met before - last year at the initiative of American talk-show host Phil Donahue. Yesterday's spacebridge, however, is the first between journalists that allowed American and Soviet college students to participate actively.
There are two schools of thought about the value of high-tech exchanges such as spacebridges. One is that they are useful forums, increasing contact and promoting understanding between the two countries. The other is that they are useless exercises in propaganda, duping Americans into believing the Soviet Union is really an open society.
To Reed Irvine, the spacebridge's billing as a meeting between American and Soviet journalists is dangerously deceptive. ``It deceives people into thinking there is an equivalence between an American journalist and a Soviet propagandist,'' says Mr. Irvine, chairman of Accuracy in Media, a conservative watchdog group.
Soviet reporters are ``all government employees, all under the direction of the Communist Party,'' he says. If they are investigating issues that previously went unreported, it's because they now have permission from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to criticize certain aspects of Soviet society, Irvine adds. ``If they don't have permission, they don't criticize.''
The new era of glasnost has not meant an end to Soviet censorship, concedes Jonathan Sanders of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. But bilateral exchanges, and this spacebridge in particular, ``can add to the diversity of discussion and encourage familiarity'' between the two sides, he says.
Fear of allowing Soviet journalists such as Pozner to appear before US audiences ``is part of the lingering slime of McCarthyism,'' says Professor Sanders, who is teaching a class on Soviet media. ``American people may be ignorant about the role of Soviet journalists, but they aren't stupid. So long as we know [the journalists] are Soviet, we can figure out the positive and negative aspects....''