Print Media

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Print Media


in the broad sense, all printed matter; in a narrower but widespread usage, a synonym for “press,” used to refer to newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals. A fundamental means of informing the public and disseminating ideas, print is a powerful weapon of social and political struggle. It is an educational tool that can be used to spread scientific knowledge, contribute to cultural development, and create a world view.

Printing arose in Europe in the mid-15th century. Until radio and television began competing as information sources some five centuries later, print was the chief means of mass communication and the most important way to convey and preserve knowledge and ideas. The first printed works were books, brochures, and leaflets, with newspapers and journals first appearing in the early and middle of the 17th century, respectively. The first press agencies appeared in the mid- 19th century. Despite the assertions of some theoreticians, print did not lose its function and importance when radio and television developed in the 20th century; on the contrary, the continuing growth of the print media throughout the world attests to extension and expansion of both the function and importance of print.

The social role of the print media is determined by those who control the equipment and materials (printing presses, paper, and so forth) and the means for distribution. Print was first used mainly by the church to reinforce and spread religious ideology through the publication of religious literature. In the course of historical development, the church gradually lost its monopoly on the spiritual life of society, and a secular press arose to express and defend the ideology of the ruling classes. In the era of advanced capitalism, the press has become a means by which the bourgeoisie exerts ideological pressure on the workers. From the struggle with the “conservative” press, which obscured the awareness of the masses, there emerged a progressive and revolutionary press, which opposed the prevailing system and ideology. The revolutionary press grew and developed, causing it to be hated and persecuted by all reactionary forces.

The history of the print media is filled with profoundly dramatic events. Books containing advanced ideas and scientific discoveries were burned; frequently, the authors themselves were also burned. Thousands of works were put on the Index of Forbidden Books by the papal Inquisition, censorship became ubiquitous, and revolutionary works were confiscated and destroyed. Despite all obstacles, however, the progressive revolutionary-democratic press continued to exist; examples include the free Russian press, which published outside the Russian Empire, and the underground press.

The emergence of Marxism in the mid-19th century and its subsequent spread heralded the beginning of a new, revolutionary-proletarian press, a powerful weapon in the struggle against exploiters. In Russia, Marxist ideas were widely disseminated by the Bolshevik press, whose moving force and organizer was V. I. Lenin.

After the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia, the first steps were taken to establish a genuinely national press. The opposition of the bourgeois press had first to be broken and the material conditions for a Soviet press created. The Decree on the Press, issued on Oct. 28 (Nov. 10), 1917, proved decisive in this regard; it made the issuance of counterrevolutionary publications impossible and transferred the largest private printing offices to the government of workers and peasants. The Decree of the Central Executive Committee Regarding State Publishing, adopted on Dec. 29, 1917 (Jan. 11, 1918), laid the basis for Soviet book publishing.

The Communist Party constantly supervised the development and practical activity of the press, and does so to this day. The party considers the press “a powerful tool for propagandizing, agitating, and organizing, an indispensable means of influencing the very broadest masses” (KPSS ν rezoliutsiakh, 8th ed., vol. 2, 1970, p. 85). V. I. Lenin thought the chief task of the press lay in serving “as an instrument of socialist construction” (Poln. sobr. soch, 5th ed., vol. 36, p. 192) and issued a call “to convert the press from an organ mainly devoted to communicating the political news of the day into a serious organ for educating the mass of the population in economics” (ibid., p. 146).

In the period when the press system was being established in the USSR, pertinent issues were made the subject of special investigations at a series of party congresses. In 1919 the Eighth Congress of the RCP(B) defined the basic methods for party direction of the press. In 1922 the Eleventh Congress of the RCP(B) indicated that “party and political supervision of the entire press should be intensified. Each party committee should designate special cadres to work for the press” (O partiinoi i sovetskoi pechati, radioveshchanii i televidenii: Sb. dokumentov i materialov, 1972, p. 81).

To improve service for the masses of readers and to strengthen the bond between the press and the broad strata of workers, the Twelfth Congress of the RCP(B), held in 1923, committed itself to creating specialized newspapers for all major strata of readers. This laid the basis for specialization throughout the whole Soviet press system. It led to publications aimed at different categories of readers, such as the Komsomol press, youth magazines, and Pioneer newspapers and magazines. The trade union press and the military press, for example, serve the professional interests of special groups of readers.

In line with the basic ideas of the party proletarian press put forth by Marx, Engels, and Lenin, the Communist Party created a party and Soviet press of profound ideological content and made it part of the overall party program. The entire Soviet press is based on the principles of party orientation, truthfulness, expression of the people’s interests, and mass orientation—principles laid down as early as the pre-October period of the Bolshevik press and developed and concretized in subsequent party decisions. The press of the USSR has become an instrument for carrying out the great organizational task of the CPSU —drawing the working masses into the active building of Communist society. There is an established mechanism allowing broad masses of workers and peasants to participate directly in the work of the print media.

Table 1. Growth of output of printed matter in the USSR
TitlesCopies (millions)TitlesCopies (millions)TitlesCopies (millions)
Books and brochures …30,07999.245,830462.280,1721,529.3
Newspapers . .8598,8067,5287,97335,325
Magazine publications (periodical and serial) ….1,3311,822245.46,7903,075

As Table 1 shows, publications in the USSR are divided into nonperiodical, periodical, and serial. The main types of publications—newspapers, magazine publications, books, brochures, and illustrative publications—have a number of additional classifications.

Newspapers are subdivided according to content into those of general political interest and those intended for a specialized readership. They are also subdivided according to the area they serve into national, republic, oblast, raion, city, kolkhoz, and local. Local newspapers are published by organizations, higher educational institutions, and enterprises.

The system of magazine publications includes magazines and journals, agitators’ notebooks, bulletins, transactions, and scholarly notes. Magazine publications are subdivided according to content into such categories as party, sociopolitical and socioeconomic, fiction and sociopolitical, natural-science, technical, and agricultural; there are also publications of mixed content. Another classification is based on the purpose of the publication, for example, science, popular science, science information, or industry. Magazine publications are also subdivided according to readership into publications for children, young people, women, and so forth. Depending on the area served, they are subdivided into national, republic, and oblast publications and publications of social organizations, scientific institutions, higher educational institutions, and scientific and technical information centers.

Book output is classified according to purpose as mass political literature, fiction, scientific literature, popular science literature, industrial literature, educational literature, reference literature, program and methodology literature, and document literature. Books and brochures are also classified according to content by the basic fields of knowledge recognized in standard library and bibliographical classification. The system of book-publishing houses includes national, republic, krai, oblast, regional, and city publishing houses and those of social organizations, ministries, governmental departments, scientific organizations, and universities.

Illustrative publications include posters, portraits, reproductions, prints, postcards, applied graphics, and albums; the last are considered part of book production.

The nationality policy of the CPSU and the Soviet state is clearly manifested in the multinational character of the Soviet print media, which ensure the development of national literatures, science, and culture. Newspapers, magazines, books, and brochures are published in the languages of the peoples of the USSR in every Union republic, autonomous republic, national okrug, krai, and oblast. In 1973, for example, newspapers were published in 56 languages of the peoples of the USSR, magazines in 44 languages, and books and brochures in 63 languages. For further information, see the section on the press, radio, and television in articles on Union and autonomous republics and the section on cultural affairs in the articles on krais and oblasts.

In other socialist countries during the years of people’s power, the print media have developed according to Marxist-Leninist ideology and new economic principles. An important means of political training for workers, the press helps to build a new society and contributes to technological, scientific, and cultural progress.

In the developing countries, the establishment of a national press proceeds under complex circumstances. The recent colonial past has left its mark, reflected in the illiteracy of much of the population, a shortage of native professionals, and often the influence of the neocolonialist policy and ideology of the imperialist powers. Despite difficulties, however, the role of the print media in the enlightenment and education of the masses and in national economic and cultural development continues to grow.

The contemporary bourgeois political press remains the servant of the capitalist class, which controls huge and sophisticated printing facilities. “All over the world, wherever there are capitalists, freedom of the press means freedom to buy up newspapers, to buy writers, to bribe, buy and fake ‘public opinion’ for the benefit of the bourgeoisie” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch, 5th ed., vol. 44, p. 79).

The fierce competitive struggle intensifies the process by which the organs of print are concentrated in the hands of press “barons” and all-powerful publishing monopolies. Thus the “monopoly of the word” arises in the capitalist world. Ignoring the complete subjugation of the mass-circulation press to the will of monopolies, bourgeois theoreticians attempt to exploit the slogan “freedom of the press” as a demagogic weapon against the guiding role of the Communist Party in the press of socialist countries. As Lenin said, however: “We do not believe in ‘absolutes.’” In each specific case we ask: What are they defending? “What sort of freedom of the press? What for? For which class?” (ibid., p. 78). If four-fifths of the circulation of daily newspapers in the capitalist world is controlled by a handful of millionaires, then it is clear what sort of freedom of the press is involved here: the freedom of capitalists to mold public opinion in their own interests, to propagandize the bourgeois way of life, to distort facts in order to preserve the capitalist system from disruptions and to slander the socialist countries.

In capitalist countries the press of the Communist Party and other progressive democratic organizations stands in opposition to the bourgeois press. Although persecuted by the ruling classes, it finds support among the masses of workers, whose interests it defends. The press of the communist parties of capitalist countries adheres unswervingly to the principles Lenin laid down for the press. I. M. TEREKHOV

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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