Soviet evening news comes to US TV screens. With the aid of translators, Discovery Channel will air news nightly during summit
About 31 million American cable television households will be able to get a unique perspective of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Moscow from May 29 through June 2. The Soviet point of view will be made available to basic cable systems through the free Discovery Channel, which will air the Soviet evening news program, ``Vremya,'' on each of those summit nights from 9 to 10 p.m. (EDT). Vremya means time in Russian.
Transmitted by satellite,the newscasts will be downlinked at the Discovery Channel production facilities in Alexandria, Va., where the feeds will then be recorded, edited into a one-hour format, and translated into English by five expert Russian translators. On-air host for the program, titled ``As They See It: The Soviet Nightly News,'' will be Hodding Carter III, joined each night by a varied team of journalists, diplomats, and Sovietologists, who will put the newscast into international context.
According to Ruth Otte, president and chief operating officer of the three-year-old advertising-supported Discovery Channel, the program will have several commercial sponsors, but there will be no commercial interruptions during the 40-minute segment of actual news presented by Soviets.
In an interview, Ms. Otte said the Discovery Channel is also considering the presentation of newscasts from China, Japan, and Brazil in its efforts to bring broad perspectives to its viewers. ``But news is not our only objective,'' Otte explained. ``Last year we presented an entire week of Soviet TV - nearly nine hours a day of selections from all their television programming. That's what we'd like to do with other countries.''
According to Otte, ``The Discovery Channel is dedicated to providing American cable television audiences with the finest-quality documentary programming that we can gather from around the world. Our vision is to give viewers an opportunity to celebrate, understand, and appreciate the diversity and the richness of the planet, whether it be the natural environment, the people, places, and cultures that inhabit the planet, or the scientific breakthroughs that impact on all of us.''
The Discovery Channel is on cable systems 18 hours daily. About one-third of the programming is made up of nature documentaries, one-third of documentaries about other lands and their cultures. The rest is divided among science, technology, history, and human adventures such as trekking and mountaineering. Although the ``Vremya'' program is obviously news, Otte insists that hers is not a news network. ``Certainly we have documentaries that deal with global issues - AIDS, hunger, other issues clearly important to the planet. But we do not plan to do straight news.''
According to industry observers, the Discovery Channel is now cable television's fastest-growing network. According to the channel's own figures, in April it added 900,000 subscribers, increasing its base to 31.2 million homes.
What would Otte consider success for the channel, other than great numbers of viewers and millions of dollars in profits?
``We are dedicating ourselves to expanding people's appreciation and understanding of the world we live in. That's what we consider our mission, and that's what we will measure our success against. We believe that, in this era of satellite linkups and dramatic advances in new communications systems, we can provide people with a background understanding of what's going on out there. All of this gives us the ... responsibility to help people understand more deeply what makes other people tick and how their perspectives get formed.''