President Mikhail Gorbachev, effectively reversing his support of press freedoms, urged the Soviet legislature Wednesday to take temporary control of the media and suspend the nation's press law.
Lawmakers objected and instead approved a modified measure giving them the power to help ensure media objectivity.Gorbachev's proposal was apparently prompted by a critical article about the Soviet military crackdown in Lithuania. It appeared in the latest edition of the weekly Moscow News.
Citing high tension in the nation, Gorbachev urged suspending the nation's press law, which curtailed censorship and guaranteed independent newspapers, radio and television stations. He backed off on that when deputies, including a journalist, objected.
The legislature then voted 275-32 with 30 abstentions to have the leadership of the Supreme Soviet and a legislative committee work out measures to ensure objectivity in all Soviet media.
"In connection with the period we're in, a period of important decisions, we need constructive dialogue and cooperation," Gorbachev told lawmakers.
Alluding to pressing national problems he said would justify the press restrictions, he said: "I see it already smells of kerosene. We are all alarmed."
In suggesting the suspension of the press law, he told lawmakers:
"We could take a decision to suspend the press law for these months and the Supreme Soviet could ensure full objectivity" in the media, he said.
To do that, he said, deputies could control all press organs from Communist Party's official newspaper Pravda to independent papers.
The measure lawmakers voted on was put forth by Supreme Soviet Chairman Anatoly Lukyanov as an alternative to Gorbachev's proposal.
Gorbachev specifically objected to an article in Wednesday's editions of Moscow News that he said referred to the Soviet leadership as a "criminal regime."
Lukyanov then held up a copy of the weekly newspaper, with the bold front-page headline "Bloody Sunday" and was bordered in black. A picture showed a man holding a Lithuanian flag and running away from a Soviet tank.
Fourteen people died and 230 were injured when Soviet troops stormed the republic's main broadcasting center early Sunday. The deaths were the first in Lithuania's 10-month-old standoff with the Kremlin over its declaration of independence.
"The crime of the regime that does not want to leave the stage," read a headline beneath the photo.
"Is this the objectivity we seek?" asked Lukyanov, a Gorbachev confidant.
In a front-page editorial signed by the newspaper's founders, it said it was mourning those who died in Lithuania during the military assault Sunday on the republic's radio and television transmitter and the damage to democracy.
Moscow News said the Lithuanian Communist Party, which is part of the Soviet Communist Party, "was the head of this coup attempt" in the republic.