MOSCOW, DEC. 28 -- Soviet broadcasting chiefs prevented the country's most popular television news show from going on the air tonight with a program about the resignation of Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.
The cancellation of this week's "Vzglyad" ("View") program was a dramatic illustration of continuing official controls over the Soviet news media six months after the formal abolition of censorship. More than 100 million viewers tune in to "Vzglyad" every week, attracted by its mix of sensational news reports and live interviews with controversial studio guests.
Alexander Lyubimov, the host of "Vzglyad," said he had planned to interview two close Shevardnadze associates to explore the reasons for the foreign minister's departure. In his resignation speech last week, Shevardnadze warned that the country was headed toward a dictatorship but did not explain how he saw this coming about.
Lyubimov said he was summoned to a two-hour meeting today with the chairman of state radio and television, Leonid Kravchenko, and was told that "Vzglyad" could not go on the air tonight because of the "current political situation" in the country. Lyubimov said it was clear that Kravchenko's principal objection was to the Shevardnadze material.
"I doubt that Kravchenko made this decision alone. In the totalitarian structure that still exists in this country, a minister of television cannot make a decision to suppress an item about a minister of foreign affairs without higher authority," Lyubimov said in a telephone interview.
Since Kravchenko was appointed head of state television last month, there has been a noticeable tightening of official controls over news programs. The nightly news program "Vremya" has broadcast a series of one-sided reports accusing nationalists in the Baltic states and other republics of fomenting ethnic strife.
In theory, "Vzglyad" is produced by an independent television company, Vid, but in practice its contents are still closely monitored by state officials. At "Vzglyad's" usual air time this evening, a Vid announcer told viewers the program had been canceled "for political reasons."
During its early days, "Vzglyad" had a series of confrontations with state broadcasting officials. On one occasion, armed police surrounded the studio to prevent an interview with Andrei Sakharov, the human rights campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. According to Lyubimov, however, the last overt interference occurred a year ago, when "Vzglyad" was prevented from showing videotape of troops attacking demonstrators in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, in April 1989.
The decision to keep "Vzglyad" off the air tonight reflected the conservative trend in Soviet politics over the past few weeks. The full Soviet parliament, or Congress of People's Deputies, granted President Mikhail Gorbachev sweeping new powers this week, enabling him to rule virtually by decree.
Lyubimov said the two Shevardnadze aides scheduled to appear on "Vzglyad" this evening were the foreign minister's chief speechwriter, Sergei Tarasenko, and a personal assistant, Temuras Stepanov. He said "Vzglyad" also had been hoping to interview Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian republic, who has accused Gorbachev of amassing more constitutional power than any previous Soviet leader.
Shevardnadze, one of Gorbachev's closest collaborators, is staying on as foreign minister until his resignation can be discussed by the working Soviet parliament, or Supreme Soviet, which will meet Jan. 8. Gorbachev's aides have said he wants Shevardnadze to stay in his administration in some capacity.
An opposition group in the Congress of People's Deputies, meanwhile, accused officials of "fraud" in pushing through the election of Gorbachev's unpopular candidate for vice president Thursday. A spokesman for the 230-member Inter-Regional Group, Arkady Murashev, told reporters that extra ballot papers had been distributed to secure the election of Gennady Yanayev on the second ballot after he failed to win the required absolute majority on the first ballot.
According to the official results, only five ballots were not cast out of 1,828 distributed for the second vote. But Murashev produced seven ballots that Inter-Regional Group members had held back. "I think it is an intentional fraud," he said.