Soviet journalists struggle to adjust to changed nation Work by two from Pravda and Tass more accurate.

September 27, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

For decades, they helped shape the attitudes of the Soviet people toward Americans as journalists for the two most powerful news organizations in that nation.

Their task: to write about all that was not good about the United States.

Now Vitaly Gans, Washington bureau chief of Pravda, and Vladimir Mataysh, Washington bureau chief of the Soviet Union's official Tass News Agency, say they are painting a more accurate portrayal of American life as a result of perestroika and this summer's failed coup.

"The picture was very bleak," Mataysh said last night in discussing what he used to write about the United States. "It was unemployment, hunger, poverty."

He and Gans appeared at a Howard Community College forum sponsored by the student government. They are scheduled for a similar program at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Anne Arundel Community College.

Tass and Pravda, once vehicles of the Soviet Communist party, now must try to convince skeptical readers to believe their reports about both life in the United States and in the Soviet Union, they said.

The Soviet journalists also confront the possibility of watching their organizations decline on as their nation moves toward democracy and abandons its former institutions. Gans said his newspaper's circulation has slipped in recent years from 11 million to 1.5 million.

"It's indicative of public attitudes toward our paper," he said. "We're not credible enough to attract readers. We'll have to try to be credible enough."

Since the failed coup attempt and President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's call for disbanding the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, Gans said, his newspaper has stumbled to an uncertain future.

He said that although Pravda now is an independent newspaper -- as staff members operate it without the oversight of the party -- there is no one to pay its costs now that the Communists are gone.

"They're not sending me any money at all and they're saying there won't be any money in the future," he said, adding that he still files stories almost every night. "I feel betrayed by Gorbachev himself because we've always supported him. But just a week ago, he said he had no time to consider Pravda's plight. He's got more important matters to deal with."

Gans said he expects journalism in the Soviet Union -- or its remnants if it splits up into separate republics -- to resemble American-style journalism, which both he and Mataysh praised.

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