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From the September - October 1988 MediaWatch

Pro-Soviet Documentary Finds New Outlet

Page 3

Turner Still Spinning His Portrait

In past issues, MediaWatch has reported on the continuing criticism of Ted Turner's seven-hour documentary series, "Portrait of the Soviet Union," aired in March on his Atlanta cable superstation WTBS. Washington Post television critic Tom Shales characterized the series as "a postcard from Binky and Biff at Camp Whitewash." The Soviet government, too, seemed embarrassed by the grandiose claims that Turner made in his series: when the series ran in the Soviet Union, authorities tagged it with a disclaimer which stated that the film gave an excessively glamorous portrait of the country and failed to reflect the self-criticism currently underway.

Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation dropped plans to market the series to U.S. school systems amid the public debate, claiming they found insufficient interest in the series to warrant a full scale marketing effort.

But none of this deterred Turner from finding new ways to disseminate his views. Turner Program Services, the syndication arm of Turner Broadcasting, just completed a barter syndication effort to the nation's television stations. In all, 125 have run or will run the series in the near future. Included in the list are independents in the ten largest media markets. Among them: WPIX-TV (New York), KCOP-TV (Los Angeles), WGBO-TV (Chicago), WLVI-TV (Boston), and WTTG-TV (Washington, DC).

Most of the program or station managers contacted by MediaWatch were unaware of the criticism surrounding the series, and seemed unconcerned that the series relayed pro-Soviet propaganda which distorted Soviet history. Said Steve Friedheim, Station Manger of WGBO in Chicago: "I never screened it. There was a fairly large interest. As far as its accuracy with Soviet history I have no idea."

But at least one television official in a major market expressed concern for the criticism the series received. WTTG Program Director Glenn Dyer said that he had been unaware of the controversy generated by the series but asked about possible imbalance: "The fact that Turner had cooperated with the Soviet Union you know you're going to get a little biased portrait. We knew that going in. But we were told that 3 of the 7 hours (with anti-Soviet sentiment) were not allowed to be broadcast by Soviet authorities in the Soviet Union." That apparently settled some of Dyers qualms with the series and WTTG decided to run it. Turner, though, misled WTTG-TV. The entire series aired unedited in the Soviet Union.


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