banner part1 banner part 3
banner part2
home about Jeremy Murray-Browndocumentary course other courses BU Documentary Makers Screenings Resources  




From the foregoing description, the intentions of the KGB disinformation planners seem clear:  

 - Sakharov is seen to be alive and well at times when others said he was on hunger strike and being badly treated;  

 - Bonner is portrayed as being an unreliable witness to her husband's situation and to his views; and there's enough to suggest that she may be leading him astray as well;  

 - The tapes appearances coincide with Soviet political initiatives;  

 - Sakharov, the Soviet Union's most famous nuclear scientist, a Nobel laureate with enormous prestige in the West, is shown to support the Soviet position on arms control and on President Reagan's strategic defense initiative.  

 If the intentions of the KGB are clear, what can be said of the other side of the equation, namely the response of the West's news media to such a prolonged disinformation campaign?  

 We do not claim to give a comprehensive answer to this question, and we certainly cannot claim to have made an exhaustive study of how the western media an exhaustive study of how the western media in every case handled the Sakharov material.  

  The most significant aspect of this campaign, however, is the form in which it was conducted. The production of so much video material by the KGB seems to indicate that their disinformation tacticians are moving in a new direction, one in keeping with the way Soviet leaders are also turning to television to present themselves on the world's stage. In this section of our study, therefore, we focus on the place television occupies in western cultural life and the special visual character of the medium.  

 It was in the 1960s that television established itself as the dominant medium of mass communication in western society. If an arc is drawn from Japan through North America to northern Europe, and the number of households calculated where television sets are viewed, it can be shown that in these households people are spending between a third and a fifth of their lives watching television. By the 1980s viewing television has become the third most common activity for Americans after sleep and work. Television is now the source whereby most Americans obtain all their information about their country and the world, a fact that has overwhelmed other media, making television in effect the medium of the media.  

 In corroboration of this extraordinary phenomenon, it seems that we must accept that illiteracy is also on the increase in the United States. To the number of those wholly illiterate, estimated to be in the region of 25 million, must be added the 35 million or more who are functionally illiterate - that is, who are unable to process simple written information, like instructions on a medicine bottle, or applications for employment, or titles on a television screen. Thus we have a total figure of some 60 to 70 million Americans - perhaps 40% of the adult population - whose experience of the world is entirely mediated by visual/oral means. At the opposite end of the cultural scale, it seems that a knowledge of history, and especially of recent past, is declining among high school and college graduates, a trend which many have attributed to the onset of television viewing habits in this generation. Yet another consideration bearing on the nature of mass communication today is the phenomenon of percentage of aliteracy, to which the Librarian of Congress has draw attention - the percentage of adult American who can read books, but do not do so, estimated to be about 44%.[9]  

 In terms of traditional ideas of what constitutes an educated society, these considerations are discouraging, to say the least. Clearly a cultural revolution has taken place of spectacular dimensions and unpredictable consequences. In human history, every time a radical change had occurred in the technology of communication it has been accompanied by an equally radical change in the way the social organism perceives itself and its surroundings. Some observers have likened the psychological consequences of today's electronic revolution to those that took place in the late 15th century with the invention of printing, or with the yet more revolutionary change that overtook ancient civilizations with the discovery of alphabetic writing. Whatever may be thought of this proposition by communicators themselves, or by statement, legislators and educationists, one thing is certain. The KGB's choice of videotapes as their new weapon indicates that the television audience is now the primary target for psychological warfare, an audience, in other words, that is defined by a medium of communication rather than by other demographic factors,  

 With this in mind, we must first note the manner in which the videotapes appeared in the West, which was the same for all eight, following a regular pattern established with the release of the first tape in August 1984.  

 In all eight cases, then, the KGB chose as its sole distribution outlet in the West the popular West German daily paper, Bild-Zeitung. Its intermediary throughout the campaign was believed to be a Soviet citizen, Victor Louis, whose name is often mentioned in connection with other Soviet disinformation campaigns. (It was this same Victor Louis, it will be recalled, who ran the story that the Moscow subway bomb of January 1977 was the work of dissidents.) In June 1984, Bild published two photographs of Sakharov and Bonner, naming Louis as their source. The publicity these photographs attracted in the West may well have given the KGB the idea for the videotape campaign that soon followed. Louis' part in these campaigns has always been ambiguous; his interests, it seems, are as much commercial as political and not always coinciding with those of the KGB. Bild has denied receiving money itself from its distribution of the tapes.[10]  

 Bild is published by the Alex Springer organization, a West German media conglomerate whose other papers mostly support the conservative policies of the Christian Democrats, the party in power in West Germany throughout the period covered by this campaign. Bild, however, with a circulation of twelve million daily, a fifth of the West German population, appeals mostly to blue collar workers who are more likely to support the Social Democrats, the party that favors closer ties between West Germany and the Soviets.  

 Bild's style is that of tabloid journalism aimed at the new mass public whose principal cultural activity is watching television. Its layout is strong on headlines and pictures, and weak on content to the point of near invisibility. Politics jostle for space with stories of crime and scandal, and photos of world leaders appear next to those of women in bathing costumes. The brazen, hard-sell approach is like the blurb to a paperback one picks up at the airport to throw away at the end of the flight, an approach common to many of the multi-media corporations which have emerged in the age of television, such as the Murdoch and Turner empires in the English speaking world, which market information aggressively as a consumer product and whose commercial success is likewise based on appealing to the tastes, values and ephemeral concerns of the new mass television public.   

Index of Papers   1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 
11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  References 

Home    |    About Murray-Brown    |    Documentary Course
Other Courses    |    BU Doc Makers  |    Screenings    |    Resources

  2000 College Of Communication, Boston University