Broadcasting under Communism 

28 May 2018

From Broadcasting on the European Continent by Burton Paulu, published by the University of Minnesota in 1967

In the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics responsibility for broadcasting rests with the State Committee for Radio and Television Broadcasting. This is one of approximately twenty departments whose chairmen are listed in the masthead of the Soviet government and out-ranked only by the Council of Ministers and the heads of the various ministries. Broadcasting, therefore, is put at the same level of importance as aviation, foreign economic relations, labor and wages, defense technology, ship building, banking, cultural ties with foreign countries, atomic energy, and state planning.

Although state control of broadcasting has never relaxed since the early days of the Soviet regime, procedures have varied. In 1924 there was a Joint-Stock Company for Radio Broadcasting owned by the trade unions and the educational authorities. In 1928 responsibility was assigned to the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs, which was succeeded in 1933 by the All-Union Committee for Radio Broadcasting under the Council of Peoples Commissars. The present committee, the State Committee for Radio and Television, was established in 1957. This committee consists of seventeen members appointed by the Council of Ministers; it is based in Moscow and also serves as the committee for the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. Each of the fourteen other independent republics of the USSR has its own committee, in addition to which there are regional, district, and local committees. A considerable degree of autonomy is allowed these groups, as their members are quick to point out.

The state committee is responsible for all aspects of both domestic and foreign broadcasting except studio equipment, interconnecting lines, and transmitters which, as in many European countries, are administered by the Ministry of Postal Services and Communications. Under the committees control, however, are extensive studio and office buildings in Moscow besides production, recording, and experimental facilities. A staff of 35,000 reports directly to this committee or the other committees mentioned above.

The chief officers of the state committee include the chairman and four deputy members who head the major departments of Soviet broadcasting: domestic radio; domestic television; broadcasts for reception abroad; and administrative, technical, and financial operations. The preparation of programs for the five domestic radio networks is done by fourteen departments organized according to functions and geography. Principal divisions include information (including news programs); propaganda (news, talks, and lectures dealing with political, economic, industrial, agricultural, international, and scientific affairs); programs for children (all types of programs from entertainment to propaganda); programs for youth; literary programs; music (concerts and music education); broadcasts for the Moscow area; audience research (based principally—though not entirely—upon letter analysis); and radio and television exchanges with foreign countries (involving eighty-six countries throughout the world). Another major division deals with domestic television. There are fourteen subsections dealing with such program areas as information, politics, music, drama, and education; presentation aspects such as films, set design, and production; and programs for special age groups like children and youths.

Although international broadcasting is not a major consideration of this study, it should be mentioned that the international broadcasting services of the Soviet Union are the largest in the world, and the deputy in charge of them bears major responsibilities. Also important are the administrative, financial, and technical problems assigned to the fourth deputy. These include the department of personnel, concerned with selecting and training staff; engineering planning and operations; a research division, which among other things reports on the activities of both Soviet and foreign broadcasting organizations, and arranges conferences; publications, which puts out articles in fifty-three foreign languages every day; financial planning; labor and wages; and correspondence.

To supplement its national services the USSR also has decentralized regional and local broadcasting in sixty different languages as well as program distribution by wire. These are administered by fourteen committees in the various Soviet Socialist Republics and twenty in the autonomous republics, as well as by 112 regional (oblast) committees, seven autonomous regional (oblast district) committees, and 153 city committees. Although subordinate to the state committee to the same extent as are their local governments to the Moscow authorities, the local committees nevertheless have much freedom of action. Basically, though, they are organized according to the pattern described above for the state committee.

Despite the fact that broadcasting in the Soviet Union is the formal responsibility of the State Committee for Radio and Television, which reports to the Council of Ministers, the Communist party is a big factor too, as with all important functions in the Soviet Union. The Council of Ministers always is subject to the ultimate power of the top party organs. Furthermore, most if not all the members of the state committee as well as the key officials in the broadcasting organization belong to the party.

Party influence is exercised indirectly when its Central Committee publishes edicts criticizing the operations and output of Soviet broadcasting. That happened in 1960 and again in July 1962, when a detailed analysis of shortcomings was issued that could hardly have been overlooked by the state committee or its staff. In April 1966 at its twenty-third Congress the party stated: “Fuller use must be made of the press, radio, television, and the cinema in order to mold a Marxist-Leninist outlook and promote the political and cultural development of all Soviet People.”

The other Eastern countries follow a basic pattern very similar to that of the Soviet Union. Most of them have a broadcasting committee or authority subject to the top organs of government and party, and many followed the same 1957 time schedule in arriving at their present structures. In Czechoslovakia broadcasting formerly was under the Ministry of Information, but in 1948 when the Communist party assumed control it became a national undertaking. Section 22 (2) of the Constitution of that year stipulated that “the right to provide a sound radio and television service is an exclusive prerogative of the government,” while section 148 stated that “broadcasting and motion pictures are susceptible only of state ownership.” In 1957, Czechoslovak radio and television were moved from the Ministry of Culture and given independent status under a Committee for Radio and Television operating under the Council of Ministers with the director general responsible directly to it.

Polskie Radio, created in 1945 as a state enterprise, after several transformations in 1960 became the National Radio and Television Committee, appointed by the Council of Ministers. An Advisory Program Council, whose chairman is also the chairman of the National Radio and Television Committee, is appointed by the chairman of the Council of Ministers acting upon suggestions submitted by the chairman of the committee. The program council includes representatives of the Council of Ministers, trade unions, workers in such fields as music, art, journalism, and the cinema, and some members from the broadcasting organizations themselves. The national committee is in charge of all aspects of broadcasting except the collection of fees, long lines, and transmitters which are the responsibility of the Ministry of Telecommunications .

The five sections of the Polish broadcasting organization, each headed by a vice president, are similar to those of the USSR: domestic radio, domestic television, broadcasting abroad, technical problems, and general administration. There also are several advisory bodies including program, scientific, and technical councils. Although the separate national units are firmly united at the top, they are allowed considerable operating independence and regional studios also enjoy much local autonomy.

Hungarian broadcasting became a state monopoly in 1925, the program service subsequently being assigned to a company known as the Hungarian Central Office of Information, with share capital divided among various political parties and trade unions. This office also was responsible for telegraph service and advertising. In the early 1930s a new corporation with private shareholders was granted an exclusive franchise to engage in commercial broadcasting, subject, however, to regulation by the Ministry of Posts, Telegraph, and Telephone. This evolved into the Office of Hungarian Radio in 1950. Jurisdiction was transferred to the Government Information Office in 1952, and to a new Hungarian Radio and Television Service (Magyar Radio es Televizie) in 1958, within which radio and television are organized separately. This agency now is responsible for all broadcasting in Hungary although transmission facilities are controlled by the Ministry of Posts, Telegraph, and Telephone.

The fact that the new Hungarian, like the Czechoslovak, authority was set up the year following the reorganization of Soviet broadcasting may account for certain similarities in pattern. The top policy group is an advisory council of seven members, made up of the president of Hungarian broadcasting, his administrative assistant, the four vice presidents, and the secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers party. The president holds ministerial rank and participates in the government. The main department heads are appointed by the Council of Ministers: There are two vice presidents for radio and two for television. In both media the program activities have been divided into four areas: politics; music; literature and youth; and childrens programs. Each of these has its own advisory committee. Asked to characterize the relationships between the broadcasting organization and the Communist party, an official of Hungarian broadcasting replied: “The closest and friendliest relations exist.” Another spokesman stated that the president of the broadcasting board reported both to the Council of Ministers and to the party secretary.

Rumania has a broadcasting charter under a decree of 1949 which grants a broadcasting monopoly to a state enterprise directly controlled by the government. Section 1 of this decree states that “the right to broadcast words or music, as also pictures by television with or without wires belongs to the State.” Section 2 assigns this right to a Broadcasting Committee under the Council of Ministers of the Rumanian Peoples Republic which appoints the main officials. The system in Bulgaria does not differ fundamentally from that described above for the other Eastern countries.

In broadcasting as in so many other respects, Yugoslavia departs from the pattern followed by the other Communist countries. Like West Germany and Switzerland, federated Yugoslavia has a considerable measure of decentralization which is evident in its broadcasting too. Each of the six Yugoslav republics as well as the two autonomous regions has its own broadcasting organization. Although independent they exchange radio programs and contribute to a common television service, achieving coordination through a voluntary national association.

The legal basis for Yugoslav broadcasting is supplied by a law which became effective in 1965. There now are eight main broadcasting organizations plus forty-nine local stations, all of which enjoy a considerable measure of independence. Each is a collective headed by an advisory council elected by the employee members from their own ranks. The stations are independent financially, even to the point of setting different license fees for their respective areas.

Membership in the nationwide organization, Jugoslovenska Radio-televizija, is not obligatory, though all the individual stations belong. This association has a governing assembly composed of five representatives from each station; a managing board elected by the assembly from its own ranks; and a three-man board of supervisors also chosen by the assembly from its members, charged with “supervising the material and financial operations of the association.” There also are operational committees dealing with such subjects as spoken word and political broadcasts; cultural, artistic, and entertainment programs; foreign contacts; music; television; technical problems; personnel training; technical matters; and supplies and finance.

The Yugoslav national press law parallels portions of the Soviet Constitution, and procedures under it are not as free as in the democratic Western countries. Yet in structure and practice, Yugoslav broadcasting provides an ideological bridge between the typical Communist and democratic systems.

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