Nosy reporters may be the bane of many bureaucrats, but now the federal government has decided that Eastern Europe may need more of them.
State Department officials yesterday announced that a newly created International Media Fund, a government-sponsored agency, is offering money, technical help and lessons in the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech to news organizations accustomed to rigid communist controls and old-fashioned equipment.
"Their problems are across the board," said Marvin Stone, a former deputy director of the U.S. Information Agency and director of the media fund. "What we're going to be looking for are the priorities and what we think can be done."
The fund was established after Secretary of State James A. Baker III pledged in February to help news organizations in the emerging democracies of Eastern and Central Europe. Speaking in Prague, Baker promised to create "a fund for independent broadcasting and a free press," and Congress then provided the group with start-up funds of $325,000.
That was part of a $1.35 million government effort since February to help foster free news media in Eastern and Central Europe. Of that, $350,000 went to the USIA for journalist training programs and the rest to the National Endowment for Democracy, which has helped newspapers and magazines modernize their equipment.
Stone's group will offer grants and training out of public and private resources and aims to be self-sustaining within a few years.
"We all know the needs. There's very little history of independent broadcasting or a free, unregulated press," Stone told reporters yesterday. "You've got an entrenched bureaucracy in most of the existing press. We want to hone their skills."
The group will stress getting help from more American broadcasters, said Stone. He noted there was a history of an underground press in Eastern and Central Europe but a lack of offers of help from U.S. television and radio companies.
Most American editors feel strongly about the importance of a free press and they have "a psychic need to export this First Amendment desire," Stone said. "American broadcasters are a more insular group."