Back to the USSR: How to Read Western News

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Back to the USSR: How to Read Western News – Strategic Culture

The heroes of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers visit the fictional borough of Eatanswill to observe an election between the candidates of the Blue Party and the Buff Party. The town is passionately divided, on all possible issues, between the two parties. Each party has its own newspaper: the Eatanswill Gazette is Blue and entirely devoted to praising the noble Blues and excoriating the perfidious and wicked Buffs; the Eatanswill Independent is equally passionate on the opposite side of every question. No Buff would dream of reading the “that vile and slanderous calumniator, the Gazette”, nor Blue the ”that false and scurrilous print, the Independent”.

As usual with Dickens it is both exaggerated and accurate. Newspapers used to be screamingly partisan before “journalism” was invented. Soon followed journalism schools, journalism ethics and journalism objectivity: “real journalism” as they like to call it (RT isn’t of course). “Journalism” became a profession gilded with academical folderol; no longer the refuge of dropouts, boozers, failures, budding novelists and magnates like Lord Copper who know what they want and pay for it. But, despite the pretence of objectivity and standards, there were still Lord Coppers and a lot of Eatanswill. Nonetheless, there were more or less serious efforts to get the facts and balance the story. And Lord Coppers came and went: great newspaper empires rose and fell and there was actually quite a variety of ownership and news outlets. There was sufficient variance that a reader, who was neither Blue nor Buff, could triangulate and form a sense of what was going on.
In the Soviet Union news was controlled; there was no “free press”; there was one owner and the flavours were only slightly varied: the army paper, the party paper, the government paper, papers for people interested in literature or sports. But they all said the same thing about the big subjects. The two principal newspapers were Pravda (“truth”) and Izvestiya (“news”). This swiftly led to the joke that there was no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestiya. It was all pretty heavy handed stuff: lots of fat capitalists in top hats and money bags; Uncle Sam’s clothing dripping with bombs; no problems over here, nothing but problems over there. And it wasn’t very successful propaganda: most of their audience came to believe that the Soviet media was lying both about the USSR and about the West.
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