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

 

(SAKHAROV, THE KGB AND THE MASS MEDIA Cont'd)

 Summarizing these points as they bear on the campaign against Sakharov, the first thing to say is that a television news program cannot show what has not been recorded visually, and in television terms news is defined by those stories for which visual material is available. Stories without visuals are generally avoided.  

 Second, given the bias of television toward visual drama, what viewers retain from television news programs are visual impressions which cannot thereafter be unimagined, as it were. The images are lodged in the memory through emotional associations which reason can't gainsay. The great success of television advertisements rests on this mnemonic principle.  

 The net result of these two factors suggests that most television viewers lack the perceptual and psychological defenses to counter a KGB campaign which sets out deliberately to falsify and confuse by means of visual images.  

 Thus Sakharov is seen to be eating; there is no doubt the visual fact is authentic, and it is this visual fact that will stick in the mind while what may be said elsewhere, perhaps later in a studio discussion, will be forgotten or ignored. We may be told Sakharov was on a hunger strike, but no visual fact to impress itself upon our imagination. Instead, we will retain the images of Sakharov "eating heartily."  

 Then Bonner is seen with a woman walking the streets of Gorky and chatting with her on a bench overlooking the river. The viewer responds: How nice it is Gorky! Even if we knew that the woman with her was her lawyer and not a friend (and the film doesn't tell us this, nor did the ABC newscast), there is no visual imagery available suggestive of the strain and isolation from which Bonner was suffering at this time. If someone tells us later that actually Gorky is a hell hole, we may receive the information intellectually, but emotionally we will remember that Gorky looked a pretty place.  

 Sakharov is seen carrying heavy suitcases. The picture speaks of his ability to do so. Although an American newscaster can explain that actually he was so weak he had to stop every few paces to rest, the viewer has no mental image of a Sakharov having to rest every few paces. These images do not exist.  

 The serious, long term implications for the West of this disinformation campaign need pondering. It is virtually impossible for most western viewers to understand how totally different from western norms is life in the Soviet Union, how far apart are western legal and ethical standards from the conduct of the authorities in the Soviet Union, conduct which has produced a pervasive cynicism throughout Soviet society. The KGB tapes provide striking evidence that responsible member of the professional classes, will participate in glaring fashion in unethical conduct of the most offensive kind. Bonner was not exaggerating when she described these medical folk as the Mengeles of their country. Obukhov, the Gorky doctor in charge of Sakharov's case, was rewarded by the state with the most prestigious title the Soviets can bestow upon a doctor - People's Doctor of ten USSR. The award, we may think, which was made in November 1985, was as much for his services as an actor and "stoolie" as a doctor. Had any western video agency attempted a   

similar piece of hidden filming, Sakharov and his wife would no doubt have had grounds for legal action, claiming severe penalties for the violation of their right to privacy. Yet American television networks did not seem to consider it necessary to protect the rights of these individuals when they were not responsible themselves for the secret filming. Why should the guidelines the networks have laid down for the conduct of news gathering at home be waived when material is handed to them by the Soviet KGB?  

 We have to conclude, therefore, that the KGB has succeeded to a remarkable degree in establishing a precedent - several precedents, actually - whereby the accepted standards of television journalism have been broken, and broken not once but several times over. The breach of these professional standards must have corrupting effect on news operatives and television audiences alike.  

 Television news executives are in a dilemma when it comes to reporting on Soviet affairs. One of them, Robert Murphy, defended ABC's decision to use the Sakharov videotapes while acknowledging  

 that all visual material from behind the Iron Curtain is suspect. "We know we're dealing with the KGB, or some part of the Soviet structure, when we deal with pictures taken in a closed Soviet city out in the open." And Peter Jennings said of the tapes, "It's as close as you can get to a visual medical report...it's keeping people in the West as aware as we can of how he may be doing." "The whole situation is dicey," added Murphy.[14] Such apologies sound weak and are unconvincing. Is it too much to ask that television news media refuse to handle material that comes to them from such sources as the KGB, with or without the services of a paper like Bild?  

   

* * * * *  

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
Email: jeremymb@bu.edu