Lovers of truth in the Soviet Union have more to be happy about lately, but an intrinsic distaste for criticism of government is still apparent among officials, an expert on international press freedom said Thursday.
Leonard Marks, a Washington, D.C., attorney who was director of the U.S. Information Agency for four years and is legal counsel for the World Press Freedom Committee, spoke to a group of Brigham Young University students during a communications symposium in the Harris Fine Arts Center.Marks, who recently spent time in the Soviet Union, said glasnost has resulted in some changes, but Russian attitudes toward a free press remain very different from those of Americans.
"You can criticize, you can print contrary views, but the basic fact remains that the Soviet Union does not regard journalists as a free and independent voice. It's still carrying out the government's policy," he said.
During a visit to Russia in 1975, Marks asked Soviet officials to allow the Americans to open a bookstore in Moscow that would sell U.S. books and magazines. "He said, `I wouldn't even give that permission to the Bulgarians,' " Marks said. But he asked the question again, and two weeks ago, the bookstore opened in Moscow.
If Marks began thinking the Soviets had converted to free speech, he was brought back to reality during the final meeting of his recent visit.
During the last moments of the meeting, the chairman of the Russian delegation said that when journalists report "inaccurate" information in the Soviet Union, they are brought before a board and disciplined. Americans should adopt the same practice, the Russian said.
"I said, `Mr. Chairman, forget it. Nothing like that will ever happen in a free-press country,' and on that note, the meeting ended," Marks said.
The worldwide information revolution can change lives, but it must be protected, he said.
"It can all be lost if there's going to be the kind of control over the communications instruments I've just described. It is up to an intelligent, aware audience to recognize that fundamental freedoms are involved," Marks said. "I know of only one practical way to solve some of these problems, and that's the glare of the spotlight. Public opinion is an enormous power these days."