By: Joseph DiLeo
With the breakup of the Soviet Union, the
longtime Communist Party mouthpiece is now covering
news more objectively and looking to turn a profit sp.
RUSSIA’S TASS NEWS Agency (Telegraphic Agency of the Soviet Union) is in the vanguard of a freedom of the press movement that has been sweeping across the largest republic of the former Soviet Union for the past several years.
Tass, the Russian counterpart of organizations such as the United States’ Associated Press and Great Britain’s Reuters, was founded in 19O4 and functioned as a spy-infested mouthpiece for the Communist Party for most of its 91 years.
Today, however, with the Cold War ended and the storied Iron Curtain turned to rust, Tass has fallen in step with its capitalist peers: Its editor and executives want to make money.
“It was an open secret that under the Soviet Union, Tass was very much controlled by the Central Committee of the Communist Party,” said Vasily Choukseev, the Washington bureau chief who also oversees Tass operations in New York and Ottawa.
“In the past, we had to accommodate spies from both the KGB and the GRU,” he said, referring, respectively, to the Soviet political and military intelligence services. “In 1972, two KGB agents, posing as newsmen in this bureau, were expelled from the United States as spies.”
Choukseev said that under Communist rule, all “politically sensitive” stories had to be cleared by Tass headquarters in Moscow. He said the only stories to escape such censorship were “natural disasters” and articles with no political overtones.
Noting the recent financial problems of United Press International, now a shadow of its former self, Choukseev said Tass faced a “financial calamity” when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1992.
Although Tass is now seeking to make money and resorts to Madison Avenue-style promotional brochures, the agency still gets two-thirds of its funding from the Russian government.
It operates 62 bureaus in 59 countries and has about 120 news staffers ? including seven in Washington, D.C., and six in New York. It transmits news via satellite to print and broadcast clients worldwide.
“There are no restraints on Tass today,” declared Choukseev, a Moscow native who has been with the agency nearly 40 years. He and his wife, Ludmilla, live in Alexandria, Va.
Choukseev said Tass subscribers include most of the major U.S. newspapers, which use the service mainly for reference material.
“I once had a byline in the Los Angeles Times for a story I wrote on the Indian rights movement in America,” Choukseev said.
Noting that the United States Embassy in Moscow recently lifted a ban barring diplomats from dating Russian citizens, Choukseev remarked that in Washington, before 1992, it would have been journalistic suicide for a Tass reporter to question the Soviet embassy about anything at all.
Russia is still the largest nation on earth ? spanning 11 time zones ? and Tass operates domestic bureaus from St. Petersburg in the West to Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan.
The service is divided into regions, and transmits news in Russian, English, French, German, Spanish and Arabic. It also boasts sports, current affairs and business wires.
Tass was founded in 1904 ? when a czar still sat on the throne of Imperial Russia ? as the St. Petersburg Telegraphic Agency (SPTA). It adopted the name TASS in 1909, and eight years later came under the control of the Bolshevik-led Council of People’s Commissars.
In 1925, it was officially named the Telegraphic Agency of the Soviet Union.
While some Tass reporters of the past were government spies, today’s journalists are professionals who are fairly well paid. Choukseev said U.S. based reporters earn about $36,000 per year, which includes, rent, an automobile, a personal telephone and other benefits.
Reporters travel around the country often and recently covered the Oklahoma City bombing and the O.J Simpson murder trial.
“We’ve come a long way from the days of the Cuban missile crisis,” Choukseev said, recalling that the editors in Moscow just didn’t realize how close their nation came to nuclear war.
“Tass is now an important part of Russian society,” Choukseev said. “It is a stabilizing influence on the government, and its future looks bright.”
?( Dileo is a freelance writer) [Caption]