Russian radio fights word war in Balkans
May 24, 1999
MOSCOW (CNN) -- In the shadow of Moscow's historic onion domes, the Voice of Russia seems to have changed little since the Cold War.
Telex machines spit out long paper rolls dotted with hole punches. Writers bang away on manual typewriters. Announcers edit hard copy with a pen or pencil.
The scripts haven't changed much either.
"As always, we have been reflecting the Kremlin position, the government position," says commentator Vladimir Makarenko.
That position -- broadcast from modest studios where potted plants and empty desks seem to outnumber people -- paints the war in Yugoslavia as a struggle between good and evil.
"It's NATO's savage airstrikes that have triggered an exodus of Albanians," one announcer reads.
Canadian announcer recalls prison threats
Since 1952, Canadian Carl Watts has worked for the station. An English announcer, he remembers when the official Soviet news radio tolerated no discord. Once he refused to read a news report.
"I said, 'You can fire me, you can do whatever you want. I'm not going to read it,'" Watts says.
His superiors had another idea:
"'Either you read it or you'll find yourself behind bars,'" he says.
Voice of Russia began as Moscow Radio on October 29, 1929, the Black Tuesday when stock market prices collapsed in New York, ushering in the Great Depression.
Today, the station faces its own financial crises. It still airs in 32 languages, but budget reductions have forced it to cut back on many broadcasts.
VOR cranks up Serb broadcasts
Except for those in Serbian. Since the NATO campaign began, the station has more than tripled its airtime for listeners in Yugoslavia to almost five hours a day, according to ITAR- Tass.
The Russian news agency quoted Voice of Russia Deputy General Director Georgy Nechayev, who said in late April that the station is trying to combat intensified broadcasts in the region by the Voice of America and other Western radio stations.
"He thinks that the (NATO) bombing of television and radio transmitters has a purely ideological goal. They want to deny nationals of Yugoslavia the domestic information and fill the air with information from the outside," ITAR-Tass reported.
Who listens to the Voice of Russia? That depends on who you ask. The radio station's Web site -- which debuted in 1996 -- reports that 100 million people tune in around the world.
But announcer Elena Baskakova wonders how many listen to the English broadcasts.
"I don't know how many are listening to this, frankly," she says. "We're kind of broadcasting into nowhere."
Correspondent Steve Harrigan contributed to this report.
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