[bas relief by Oleh Lesiuk]
The New York Times. 23 June 1931
SOVIET CENSORSHIP HURTS RUSSIA MOST
Though Called Unusually Mild, It Gives Opportunity To Spread False Reports.
MARKET RIOT IS CITED
Nine Died In Stampede After Bombing, But Censor Barred Foreign Dispatches.
WORLD GOT WILD ACCOUNT
Bolsheviki Also Lean Over Backwards In Making Foreign Reporters Dig For News.
This is the seventh of a Series of articles on Russia today by The York Times Moscow correspondent, who is at present in Paris.
By WALTER DURANTY.
Special Cable to The New York Times.
PARIS. June 22—Soviet Russia starts from the premise that it has had a cruelly unfair deal from the world press, which it holds inevitable because the “hirelings and lackey-writers of capitalism” cannot fail to misrepresent and decry a proletarian experiment..
This is only partly true, to begin with, and anyway it is largely the Bolsheviki’s fault. Until 1921, when the signing of the Soviet-American Relief Administration agreement broke the “press blockade” set up by the Bolsheviki against “bourgeois correspondents,” no newspaper man was admitted to Russia who was not either a strong sympathizer or was presented and vouched for by some one whom the Bolsheviki trusted.
No less eminent a person than the present Foreign Commissar. Maxim Litvinoff, told the writer and a half dozen colleagues of leading American newspapers and news agencies brusquely in Dorpat, Estonia. in 1919, “We don’t want bourgeois reporters—they are spies or enemies or both.” To do M. Litvinoff justice, he later admitted that this view was somewhat hasty, and with few exceptions there has been little serious friction between Soviet authorities and foreign correspondents..
Censorship Usually Moderate.
The censorship, though strict in a certain direction, is usually applied with intelligence and moderation. Unlike most censors whom the writer has known in the past seventeen years, the Bolsheviki are always wiling to discuss matters with a correspondent before a cable message is sent and meet him half way in modifying a sentence so not to break the thread of his message or even to convey in more moderate form the item disapproved.
During the past two or three year there has been no censorship of news sent by mail, but It is always understood the responsibility for such news will fall on the correspondent if the authorities object later, whereas for cabled messages the censor himself must bear the brunt of subsequent official ire.
It cannot be said however, that the Soviet press department is equally satisfactory in giving news to foreign reporters. Contrary to what generally is believed abroad - perhaps for that very reason—far from the Soviet Government pumping propaganda into resident correspondents the latter generally have to extract it drop by drop. When the writer contrasts the admirable mechanism of the French press bureau—that is, propaganda department—during and shortly after the World War with the aloof inertia of the ‘scratch-for-yourself’ attitude of the Soviet Foreign Office, it be comes positively infuriating to hear people abroad say:
“Of course, Moscow correspondents write just what the authorities want..”
Far from knowing what they want, it is a labor of Hercules to drag scraps of official information from the omnivorous monopoly of Tass, the Soviet Government press agency, which often claims successful priority on important news.
If the Bolsheviki were less conservative—or, perhaps, less obtusely suspicious is a better phrase—they would abolish the cable censorship as they have done with mail reports, and reserve the right to demand correction or take other measures for reports which they considered unfair or untrue. Then they would set their censors to work on providing news and indicating, if necessary, the official point of view.
If, for instance, the British or German Government sends a note to the Soviet Government what the world wants to know is the Soviet official reaction thereto, not what the writer or any other reporter imagines the official reaction may be. All too often unfortunately, the foreign reporter is forced to make more or less accurate guesses or leave the point wholly uncovered for a day or more until Izvestia or Pravda editorials appear.
Censorship Aids Enemies.
But where the censorship stabs the foreign reporter in Moscow in the midriff is the license it gives to their more imaginative or less cautious colleagues abroad, especially in Riga, Helsingfors, Bucharest arid other points where “White” Russians maintain centres of anti-Soviet information.
So great is the influence abroad of the Soviet censorship myth and the myth of bought or terrorized foreign correspondents in Moscow that the most monstrous inanities from these border States gain ready credence. Riga “assassinates” Stalin; Kovno floods the streets of Moscow with mutiny and blood; Bucharest blasts the Soviet Ukraine with fire and sword, and meanwhile the unhappy Moscow correspondent is unaware of these stirring events and is besieging the Foreign Office to find out just what point in the interminable series of Russo-Chinese notes may or may not be worth American interest..
It the people abroad could only understand it—or the Bolsheviki either—nothing could be more absurd. That the Soviet press is “controlled” does not mean that Rumor, flying, as Virgil said, faster than & Scythian arrow, does not carry news across tube Soviet State and capital, growing more magnified and direr as she flies.
Apart front the foreign correspondents and dozens of foreign going daily to Warsaw or Riga, less than twenty-four hours distant, there are upward of a score of foreign embassies and legations with privileged cable codes and courier bags. Moscow is. really a vast .sounding board, where unprinted items of news echo loudest and little if anything of moment can occur without “grape-vine” repercussion..
Moscow Market Riot Told.
Take, for illustration, an incident that occurred on May 29 or thereabout at the Sukharvesky open-air market in Moscow, when a group of malefactors threw a smoke bomb at midday, the explosion of which was no louder than a pistol shot, and looted goods and money in the panic that ensued.
The stampeding crowd trampled seven children and two adults to death, and a score of others were injured more or less severely. On the same afternoon a foreign diplomat asked the writer about it. Between 3 and 4 P. M. the writer received two telephone messages on the subject. At 6 P. M. the writer’s chauffeur retuned from a filling station with a lurid account. By 8 P. M. every square and street car wag abuzz.
The censor said the story was barred, but that perhaps there would be a communiqué the next day. An investigation established the facts pretty exactly, but for some reason the authorities declined to release the affair. A week later the writer read in a White Russian newspaper abroad front-page stories headed, “Starving Population Revolts in Moscow” with the subhead “Food Riots Occur at Many Points In Soviet Capital - Bloodshed Police and Cheka Battalion Use Gas and Machine Guns.”
Who is to blame for that but the Bolsheviki themselves? There is a glaring contradiction between their all-embracing and successful formation of public opinion at home and their attitude toward news for abroad, which, if secondary, is nevertheless important.
To lean over backward against helping or “propagandizing” foreign reporters may gratify the Soviet ego and caress the growing Soviet pride, but it makes life hard for foreign reporters.
© The New York Times. 1931. N.B. The executive editor of The New York Times, Bill Keller, told The Washington Post on October 23 2003, that the newspaper would have no objection if the Pulitzer Prize Board wanted to revoke Mr. Duranty's award. Mr. Keller called Mr. Duranty's work "pretty dreadful. ... It was a parroting of propaganda." It will be taken as read that no royalties are due on this un-authorised reproduction of this article As such they are also perceived, as having no truthful value whatsoever, are only reproduced for academic and educational purposes, not intended to defraud The New York Times of any morally legitimate royalty revenue and are published without financial gain. In any event, the copyright for the above may well only reside, 70 years after its publication with the heirs of Walter Duranty, and with whom we have no personal animosity whatsoever. Nevertheless, any contention of copyright violation may by taken up under the jurisdiction of English Law. My service address for any legal correspondence is: Nigel Linsan Colley, 1, Crown Street, Newark, Nottinghamshire, England, NG24 4UY. Any prosecution will, you can be assured, be defended in the public domain.
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