First year students of foreign journalism at МГУ (MGU = Moscow State University) received a visit from Gregory Pruttskov, Assistant Professor, Dept of Journalism. Here he puts marks (grades) in students personal grade books, after speaking on the relationship between objective journalism in reporting about religion and the state.
Students listened and participated but after class held him for another 90+ minutes with questions about how journalists coped under the oppression of Communism. They’re so young today that they have no collective memory of that era, but of course hear of it from their parents and grandparents.
The professor told students that for seventy years the Soviet reader had only one point of view of journalism – from one source. People had to understand and live in two realities. One reality – what was necessary to say at work, in a formal setting, communicating with children, so they did not accidentally cause trouble for the family if the children talked about family life at school. And the other reality was the truth that people really understood and felt but could seldom speak except behind closed doors.
As to how citizens got their news, Professor Pruttskov said that even in the newspaper “Pravda” one could read a lot of interesting things by reading between the lines, so to speak.
Foreign media was banned during the Soviet years however if one did have access to a Western paper or broadcast, much about the Soviet Union could be learned. As an example, American Kremlinologists became very good at identifying when changes were going on behind the scenes in the Kremlin. The way that members of the Politburo were seated in State media photographs revealed who was “in” and who was considered to be “out.”
Russian journalists and students of journalism found ways to read forbidden newspapers. One method was to listen to the banned American broadcasts from “Voice of America” or “Freedom” radio. Another was to sneak into the giant Hotel Rossiya (Hotel Russia) where a limited number of western papers and magazines were in the lobby for the convenience of western business and diplomatic visitors.
There were risks associated with reading western materials and the Hotel Rossiya was crawling with KGB agents however so one had to use caution when picking up an English language publication. A student or journalist could be thrown out of the Young Communist League as a result, a certain career-ending move in those days.
When the Soviet system collapsed in 1987-88, western newspapers began to appear for sale in Soviet street kiosks.
Prior to the fall of Communism one could buy any communist newspaper from around the world but not a western newspaper or magazine. In fact very few Soviet citizens could read or speak English during the Soviet era but with newly discovered openness English immediately became a popular language to learn after the collapse.
By 1988 Western media was legal to be sold in the Soviet street kiosks. “The Times” cost one ruble, as an example. The government, financially bankrupt, stopped jamming Western radio stations and soon Russian publications began to publish documents from the history of the Stalinist period, often shocking even the most hardened Russian reader.
Today newspapers and periodical in Russian and English are freely sold in street kiosks and in press vending machines in the underground “Metro” subways as shown in the photo above.