Soviet television viewers who watched the news one night last month glimpsed something extraordinary. There, on the screen, appeared scenes of a drug bust in Moscow, complete with pictures of needles and an unidentified white powder. While the camera showed police rushing into an apartment and arresting its occupants, an announcer explained how the suspects had tried to hide the goods, but to no avail.
That report is just one more example of Soviet Party Leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, or openness, in the media. Over the past year the state-run press has been exploring the problems of Soviet society with unprecedented candor, discussing such once forbidden topics as drug abuse, prostitution and urban blight. In addition, newspapers and TV have covered the kinds of national catastrophes—an earthquake, an attempted airplane hijacking and the sinking of a Soviet submarine—that were once hushed up.
Few glimmers of glasnost have penetrated Soviet press treatment of the outside world, however. Capitalist countries are still routinely described as being plagued by unemployment, labor strife and racism, while news of the East bloc consists largely of stories about factory openings and trade agreements with Moscow. In one issue last week, Pravda, which usually devotes two of its six daily pages to foreign news, carried items about a student strike in France, a protest in India over the handling of the Bhopal disaster, a "crisis in the rightist camp" in Spain and a controversy about a book on the British intelligence services.
Much of the international coverage focuses on the U.S., but there is a more heavy-handed slant on some stories than on others. After U.S. News & World Report Correspondent Nicholas Daniloff was arrested as a spy in Moscow in late August, TASS declared he had been "caught red-handed" and that "it would seem proper that his bosses should still their tongues out of shame." The Soviet news agency used the episode as an opportunity to lambaste the CIA, reminding readers how the agency "prepared such subversive acts as the intrusion of a South Korean Boeing aircraft into Soviet airspace or the assassination attempt on the Pope, later falsely claiming that Bulgaria was involved."
Accounts of the Reykjavik summit, albeit dense with rhetoric, tended to stick closer to the facts. If a story continues to have mileage as a propaganda vehicle, however, the Soviets are reluctant to drop it: two months after the Iceland meeting, the press is still explaining why Ronald Reagan's Space Defense Initiative should be curtailed and blaming the U.S. for the arms race.
Under Gorbachev, news is reported more promptly, but the ideological spin remains. When National Security Adviser John Poindexter resigned, TASS immediately carried an announcement, then added, "In this way the Administration is trying to hush up the scandal over secret U.S. arms deliveries to Iran, which were carried out on the order of the White House." In a report last week, a Soviet TV correspondent in Washington called the Iranian affair "shameless and lawless, even by American legal standards."