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VOA Facing Competition from Liberalized Soviet Media

April 7, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Glasnost has brought challenges for the Voice of America, the U.S. government radio station reviled for years by the Kremlin: Now that the Soviets have stopped jamming its broadcasts, VOA has to be more interesting.

″We now use more actualities and music,″ VOA director Richard Carlson said in an interview. And instead of recycling programs several times a day to go through despite jamming, VOA now produces fresh material for every program.

″We now have to be more competitive,″ Carlson said, citing broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corp. and the more-open Soviet media under the glasnost - or openness - policies of Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

″We have tried to make our programming more interesting, now that people don’t have to listen through eight frequencies″ of interference.

But the VOA hasn’t softened its view of Soviet affairs.

Editorials try to put Gorbachev’s reforms ″within a realistic context,″ Carlson said. ″Like jamming. It is intellectually difficult to applaud people for stopping what they were not supposed to be doing in the first place.

″One of the things that we have not changed is the tone and tenor of our broadcasting. We are not being kinder to Gorbachev. We think we have been fair all along.″

Carlson last December returned from a 10-day tour of the Soviet Union, the first ever by a VOA director. Charles Z. Wick, head of the U.S. Information Agency which administers VOA, also has traveled to the Soviet Union and Poland.

And the head of VOA’s Russian service, Gerd Von Demming, is just back from a trip that took him to Soviet Armenia a week before demonstrations broke out there in February.

After they left the Soviet Union, Von Demming and a colleague, VOA’s Vienna correspondent Joylon Naegle, telephoned contacts they made in Armenia and broadcast reports on the demonstrations there.

Although Gorbachev has opened some doors to VOA, he still voices the longtime Soviet complaint about ″foreign voices″ fomenting unrest.

‴Various radio stations, including official ones, have joined in the subversive activity,″ Gorbachev said Tuesday. ″Especially active ... is Deutsche Welle,″ West German radio.

″They are trying to interfere in our internal affairs, to exacerbate problems from the outside, and engaging in provocations,″ he said in remarks distributed by Tass news agency. ″At present this is particularly visible in connection with the events around Nagorno-Karabakh,″ a scene of Armenian unrest.

Carlson said he hopes that Kremlin ire will not torpedo VOA’s longstanding request to open a bureau in Moscow.

″In keeping with all the remarkably successful public relations moves by the Soviets, we think we may win approval,″ Carlson said.

Later this month, VOA is planning its first call-in show, in which broadcasters will field questions relayed from Soviet listeners dialing direct to London.

And on Tuesday, VOA conducted its first telephone interview with a Soviet official, Pyotr Morozov, director of the department of scientific research at the All-Union Institute for Mental Health in Moscow. Morozov’s boss, Marat Vartanian, for years has denied allegations that the Soviet Union incarcerated dissidents in psychiatric hospitals.

During the interview, said Carlson, Morozov repeated the Soviet denials, but acknowledged that some people sentenced for criminal offenses were treated in psychiatric hospitals.

Soviet authorities treat political dissidents with debilitating drugs in psychiatric hospitals, according to Peter Reddaway, secretary of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies and Ellen Mercer of the American Psychiatric Association. Numerous Soviet emigre accounts also have described the practice.

″We have a list of more than 100 people″ who were convicted of political crimes and sent to psychiatric hospitals, said Cathy Fitzpatrick, of the Helsinki Watch Committee in New York.

Carlson said VOA would combine Morozov’s comments with those of Mercer, Fitzpatrick and a Moscow-based dissident during a broadcast to the Soviet Union next week.

Previously, said Carlson, VOA has spoken by phone with dissidents such as Andrei D. Sakharov, but never with an official.

The Soviet Union jammed VOA broadcasts until 1973, when a period of Soviet- American detente began. Jamming resumed in 1980 with the rise of the independent Solidarity trade union in Poland.

The Soviets stopped jamming broadcasts to the Soviet Union last May 26, and stopped interfering with broadcasts to Poland this January. Polish-language broadcasts had been jammed by military transmitters inside the Soviet Union, said Carlson.

Although the Soviets have stopped jamming broadcasts by VOA, the BBC and Deutsche Welle, they still try to block reception of two other U.S.-funded stations, Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe.

To reach different groups in the Soviet Union, VOA broadcasts in a number of languages including Russian, Ukrainian, Uzbek, Azeri, Lithuanian, Estonian, Latvian, Armenian and Georgian.

VOA transmissions to other countries in the Soviet bloc include broadcasts in Polish, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Romanian and German.

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