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MEETING BY SATELLITE. US, Soviet journalists `meet' to discuss the role of their media

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Spacebridges are being used increasingly to bring together Americans and Soviets who are leaders in their fields, including health and science. Journalists from both countries have also met before - last year at the initiative of American talk-show host Phil Donahue. Yesterday's spacebridge, however, is the first between journalists that allowed American and Soviet college students to participate actively.

There are two schools of thought about the value of high-tech exchanges such as spacebridges. One is that they are useful forums, increasing contact and promoting understanding between the two countries. The other is that they are useless exercises in propaganda, duping Americans into believing the Soviet Union is really an open society.

To Reed Irvine, the spacebridge's billing as a meeting between American and Soviet journalists is dangerously deceptive. ``It deceives people into thinking there is an equivalence between an American journalist and a Soviet propagandist,'' says Mr. Irvine, chairman of Accuracy in Media, a conservative watchdog group.

Soviet reporters are ``all government employees, all under the direction of the Communist Party,'' he says. If they are investigating issues that previously went unreported, it's because they now have permission from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to criticize certain aspects of Soviet society, Irvine adds. ``If they don't have permission, they don't criticize.''

The new era of glasnost has not meant an end to Soviet censorship, concedes Jonathan Sanders of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. But bilateral exchanges, and this spacebridge in particular, ``can add to the diversity of discussion and encourage familiarity'' between the two sides, he says.

Fear of allowing Soviet journalists such as Pozner to appear before US audiences ``is part of the lingering slime of McCarthyism,'' says Professor Sanders, who is teaching a class on Soviet media. ``American people may be ignorant about the role of Soviet journalists, but they aren't stupid. So long as we know [the journalists] are Soviet, we can figure out the positive and negative aspects....''

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