The Soviet national legislature wrote glasnost , or openness, into law Tuesday, banning censorship and granting wide press freedoms, including the right of individuals to start publications.
“The press and other mass media are free,” the new press law’s first article says. “Censorship of mass media information is not allowed.”
The official Soviet news agency Tass described the measure as “the first legal act in the history of the Soviet state that contains detailed guarantees of press freedom and journalists’ rights.”
Under the law, officials who harass reporters or try to block publication of information will face criminal charges and fines of up to $800.
The law also grants rights to reporters, including allowing them to refuse to write stories that violate their convictions. They also may take their name off any article “the content of which, in (the journalist’s) opinion, was distorted during editing.”
The law establishes a strict procedure for registering new press organs. This part is designed to rule out refusal of permission to publish on political grounds.
Underground publications known as samizdat have undergone a boom in the last year and are sold freely on the streets of Moscow. Usually produced with a typewriter and a copying machine, they generally have small circulations, high prices and a penchant for scandal. The new law could make such independent publications serious challengers to dominant official newspapers such as Izvestia and Pravda.