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Archive for Wednesday, July 7, 1993

EDOM OF PRESS

July 7, 1993

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Baltic journalists visiting Lawrence on Tuesday said they were encountering some of the same ethical, economic and legal problems faced by their counterparts in the United States following recent political changes in their countries.

Eight journalists -- three each from Estonia and Latvia and two from Lithuania -- made the comments during a visit to a Kansas University journalism class.

The group, most of whom were editors and news department supervisors, was touring KU to learn more about American journalism.

During a discussion with students, the journalists said they no longer faced censorship prevalent during Soviet domination of their countries. The Baltic states became independent in 1990 and 1991 after being occupied by the Soviet Union for more than 40 years.

"Even during the last two years, there have been many, many changes," said Priit Hobemagi, editor in chief of a weekly newspaper in Tallinn, capital of Estonia.

"The presence (of censors) was always there, but from the local (Communist) party office, not from Moscow," he said. "It was kind of network."

Hobemagi said the Estonian Parliament tried to re-impose censorship laws about two years ago, but failed.

"Thank God it went down," he said.

The journalists said their countries had no mass communications laws. However, they said cases of libel or slander were handled according to criminal or civil codes.

Members of the group said the transition from a planned, centralized to a capitalistic economy had left them facing some of the same economic and ethical problems as U.S. newspapers and television stations.

As in the United States, newspapers in the Baltics now are primarily supported by private advertising, rather than by the state.

Max Utsler, KU associate professor of journalism, asked the journalists if private businesses had requested their editorial staffs to produce news stories in exchange for advertisements.

"I'm just wondering that because if you haven't run into that yet, you will," he said, laughing.

"Some of the businesses will call and say, 'I will advertise in your paper but I want someone to write a story about my business,'" said Tiina Soon, also of Estonia. "I have to tell them no."

Utsler, a former television journalist, told the group that he believed newspapers did a relatively good job of separating their editorial and advertising contents, in part because of long-standing tradition.

But he said the distinction had become blurred in some American magazines, especially those that focus on special interests.

"I think television falls somewhere in between," he said.

The journalists were to travel to Emporia today and Kansas City on Thursday and Friday.

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