Mikhail Alexseev, former Kremlin correspondent for the weekly News From Ukraine, covered the 1993 U.S.-Russian summit in Vancouver, B.C., for The Seattle Times.
By Mikhail Alexseev
A friend of mine once told me about an unprecedented gesture by Mikhail Gorbachev at the 1989 Malta summit with George Bush. At the post-summit press conference, he said, Gorbachev was asked "an eternal Pravda question" (by the Pravda correspondent, of course).
"How do you, Mikhail Sergeyevich, evaluate the results of the summit?"
"Good," said Gorbachev. "Next question, please."
Never before did a Soviet Communist Party leader undercut his own party newspaper so decisively.
Now the U.S.S.R. is dead and gone, but the "eternal Pravda questions" still top the menu of the inner-ring Russian news agencies. On a drizzly April evening in Vancouver, I found myself hobnobbing in the lobby of the Pan Pacific Hotel, fishing for an interview with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev along with a bunch of guys from the Russian Information Agency.
They were accompanied by RTR (Russian TV/Radio) people with cameras _ the presence of which made Kozyrev stop and agree to answer questions. A unique opportunity. Nothing like that was planned. Fire away. And in came a barrage of "eternal Pravda questions":
"How do you evaluate the current talks?"
"What does this summit mean for the characterization of our relations in general, at this intensive moment?"
"The political opponents of Boris Yeltsin will use this visit to mount new attacks against him. What would you tell them?"
Out came the barrage of eternal Pravda answers: "Talks have a constructive character." "We are trying to meet each other halfway." "We must enter the broad arena of international cooperation."
After the third question Kozyrev made a gesture to his security guard. "That's it, gentlemen. Goodbye."
I tried to stick in one more question, to ask Kozyrev why the aid package to Russia was prepared in such secrecy and turned out to be so irrelevant to Russia's economic revival. But the guards pushed me away.
The Russian news-agency guys, however, were triumphant. "I always told you," one of them said to another. "Ask him a semi-abstract question and he will talk." As if making him talk was an end in itself.
In retrospect, I found one more reason why this Pravda-style, just-make-them-utter-sounds approach lingers on among my ex-fellow hacksters. While the American government had a couple dozen people issuing express press releases and feeding them to the press, the Russian press release section stayed empty throughout the entire summit. Of the two Russian press briefings, one was in Russian and the other was canceled after the journalists waited for half an hour. Veteran Russian reporters called Yeltsin's spokesman "mudak" (literally meaning "castrated goat" in Russian).
With no basic facts covered, and no background information laid on for them, the Russian journalists lined up for occasional brief interview, just like ordinary Russians line up for milk or cheap dirty small eggs. Yes, minister. Yes, oh Pravdaland.
Back to menu . . .
In the past few years, all that has changed. At U.S.-Russian summits, the emphasis has turned from platitudes to practicality, and the same is true of media exchanges. Often the "exchange" is conducted entirely in the East, drawing on Western expertise.
This summer, the U.S. Information Agency is funding four programs aimed at training scores of journalists from Russia and other former Soviet republics. These programs illustrate the new wave of business-oriented exchanges between East and West:
- The Institute of International Education, based in New York, plans to bring at least 11 journalists from Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to the United States in October for training and internships at newspapers around the country. Emphasis is on development of independent media in the former Soviet Union. The program also provides for training sessions in Odessa and Tashkent. Phone number for the institute is 212-883-8200.
- Internews, based in Arcata, Calif., is training at least 33 journalists from Russia, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in TV station management. The program will be conducted at Internews' center in Kiev in July and August. Phone: 707-826-2030.
- The National Forum Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., plans a short-course training program for at least six Kyrgyz journalists in September and October. The program includes internships at various American newspapers. The Kyrgyz partner in the project is the Free Information Society in Bishkek. Phone number for the Washington foundation: 202-543-3515.
- The University of Alaska in Fairbanks is providing training in media management for 10 journalists and academics from Yakutsk in the Russian Federation, in July and August. The program is being conducted in conjunction with Fairbanks' KTVF-TV and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Eight Alaskans will travel to Yakutsk next April for follow-up training. Phone: 907-474-6249.
Back to menu . . .
- Alicia Patterson Foundation: Awards one-year grants of $30,000 for U.S. citizens with at least five years of professional experience in print journalism to pursue independent projects of significant interest. Contact: The Alicia Patterson Foundation, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Suite 1250, Washington, D.C. 20004. Deadline: Oct. 1.
- American Volunteers for International Development: Places American professionals in government institutions, businesses and independent media organizations in Eastern Europe, Russia and Ukraine. The foundation matches requests for assistance with the appropriate American applicants and provides for most of their transportation and living expenses. Volunteers should have at least two years of professional experience and commit to at least three months of service. Contact: AVID, c/o National Forum Foundation, 511 C St. N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002.
The National Forum Foundation also organizes similar internships in America for professionals from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
- Citizen Exchange Council: Arranges two- to three-week programs for American journalists to meet with counterparts in Russia and other former Soviet republics, for a fee. Can facilitate continuing exchanges. Contact: Lynn Stern, Citizen Exchange Council, 12 W. 31st St., New York, N.Y. 10001.
- Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships: Offers fellowships for non-American journalists with at least three years of professional experience. Provides two-week orientation in Washington, followed by five months of work with host newspapers and magazines in the United States. Contact: Susan Talalay, Executive Director, Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships, 1155 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 601, Washington, D.C. 20036.
- World Press Institute: Offers 10 fellowships to non-American journalists aged 25 to 35, with three to five years of professional experience. Fellows will spend about five months traveling around the United States. Applications are accepted throughout the year, with fellows named April 1. Contact: John Hodowanic, Executive Director, World Press Institute Fellowship Program, Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn. 55105.
- ASNE International Journalism Exchange Program: Provides six weeks of travel and lodging for journalists who have at least five years of professional experience and who have never traveled to the United States. Contact: Center for Foreign Journalists, 11690A Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, Va. 22091. Deadline: May 15.
The Center for Foreign Journalists also publishes an annual register of education, training, fellowship and internship programs worldwide. Copies of the directory are available from the center for $10, which covers postage and handling.
The CFJ Clearinghouse also maintains an on-line information service. The modem dial-in number is 703-620-5849. For information, call 703-620-5745. E-mail may be sent to email@example.com.
(These listings were compiled from Editor & Publisher; the Center for Foreign Journalists; and Channels, published by the Center for Civil Society International.)
Back to menu . . .
Those two forces of change - self-determination and communications - are interrelated: Global television, fax, e-mail and small-scale publishing contributed to the East's progress toward democracy and openness. New freedoms, in turn, have opened up new opportunities for exchange and business, creating new links between East and West.
The twin revolutions in East-West politics and communications are the focus of "New Media for a New World," a conference planned for July 1994 in St. Petersburg, Russia's "Window on the West."
Right now, the media conference is an idea under development by the Art Pattison Communications Exchange Program, the publisher of GlasNews. "New Media for a New World" would be scheduled during the 1994 Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, just as the 1990 conference took place during the Seattle Goodwill Games.
Back to menu . . .