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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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
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.
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?
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