Jörg Klemme, Hamburg_pixelio.de

Totalitarianism’s New Clothes

Jörg Klemme, Hamburg_pixelio.de
Jörg Klemme, Hamburg_pixelio.de


Almost 25 years ago the iron curtain came down. The East Bloc has vanished–so do science journalists enjoy more freedom?  Not really. A prominent panel at the World Conference of Science Journalists WCSJ 2013 Helsinki assessed the situation and found:  “Now it’s more subtle, but no less devious”, stated Istavan Palugyai, Hungary. And James Cornell, President of the International Science Writers Association ISWA, found, also in regards to manipulation practices in the United States: Heavy hand censorship has transformed into “velvet-gloved”, “the difference is just a matter of style”. There was agreement among panelists that communism has been replaced by another ideology: capitalism and an overall money making motivation resulting in a regrettable loss of quality. And, surprise, there was more bright reporting under communist rule than Westerners had imagined and Western propaganda would have ever admitted. Science and the reports about in, although under pressure, were in some regards more thorough and more enticing than nowadays.

Istvan Palugyai, senior science editor of Budapest’s daily Népszabadsag chaired the session “Science journalism in totalitarian countries and its impacts to the present time”.  He started out with the presentation “Tomorrow Starts Yesterday” which he summarized with these words:

WCSJ 2013 Helsinki 057

“Science journalism and science related topics are not independent from politics especially in issues affected by social conflicts. The rate of the democracy influences the distortion of the news (and their balance). Hungary: In the totalitarian system the distortion was everyday practice. In the current time there are dangers again and science journalism has to avoid and resist adverse influences . For example, there are many taboo topics, construction of water dams, research of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), nuclear power.


Dr. Blanka Jergovic, professor of the University of Zagreb and science journalist for Croatian Radio, lectured on “Science Journalism in Transition: Croatian Experience”. She observed substantial change within four analysed years: increase of quantity, decrease of quality along with ethical issues: Articles are being repeated in the same newspaper after several months.Only one newspaper has a science correspondent, others have journalists occasionally covering science and other fields, or they have no one covering science. She referred to a study of Croatian largest daily newspapers between 2009 and 2012.

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Helsinki presentation.BLANKA

Helsinki lecture. Blanka


Marina Huzvarova, editor-in-chief of Academic Bulletin Czech Republic, brought the phenomenon of METEOR BROADCASTING in the former Czechoslovak radio into focus. The title: Light in the Darkness in Totalitarian Journalism. Her contribution was a true testimony of the brilliance of science journalism under communist rule. This was,  of course, not the rule, but surely also a facet of daily life, which never really surfaced in the Western world.

WCSJ 2013 Helsinki Marina lowres



WCSJ_MARINA prezentace Meteor


The session producer Viola Egikova, a Moscow-based science journalist and EUSJA vice-president, dealt with the question whether censorship is still alive. Not if you don’t want to, was her conclusion and request to colleagues in the audience. Impressing and also courageous her testimonial of how critical journalists are being shut up in modern Russia.

WCSJ 2013 Helsinki Viola lowres




Viola Speech


Another contributor to the session, as a discussant, was Alexandru Mirono from Romania. He published more than 4000 science articles in the magazine STIINTA&TEHNICA. Between 2001 and 2008 he worked as General Secretary of The Romanian National UNESCO Commission in the field of education. He edited 24 antologies of science and science fiction. He actively participated in toppling the Ceausescu regime and became later a minister in one of the first democratically elected governments of Rumania >> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandru_Mironov.

During the Helsinki session, he presented some of his books, all best- and longsellers, with plenty of enthusiasm and convincing dedication to the work of scientists and science journalism. One sentence, expressed with particular passion, will probably stick in many heads of the people in his audience. Mironov also observed, as many panelists, that science journalism had severely declined under capitalist rule and concluded his presentation with the memorable sentence: “If I had anticipated this I would have had double thoughts about participating in the revolution.”



Totalitarian systems were not only about communism. Facism was also very fashionable, and still is.  Wolfgang C. Goede, EUSJA honorable secretary and board member of the German Science Writers’ Association TELI looked, from the perspective of his country, at both systems. “Echos of 2 Germanies” discovered many similiarities, although the communist history in science journalism’s communist history has hardly been uncovered. Too many people who shared the beliefs are still alive. Nevertheless, the presenter discovered many common values in Germany 1933-1945 and Germany 1949-1989, for example: 2 Automobiles, 1 Principle: ENGINEERS sugarcoat DICTATORSHIPS and make DREAMS come true. Further,  2 Ideologies, 1 Goal : Total Control which puts freedom into JEOPARDY!

And not to forget:  Without Journalists NO Democracy. Sci Journs need to develop ethical SKILLS & investigative COURAGE . More about Science Journalism in the 3rd Reich: http://www.teli.de/geschichte/geschichte.html

The session terminated with “The Tyranny of Democracy”, presented by James Cornell, President International Science Writers Association ISWA. His take-home message, also very critical and demonstrated with lively examples: Censorship has been reality in the United States, all along, nowadays less obvious, more sophisticated and clandestine. Watch out!

WCSJ 2013 Helsinki Jim lowres



Speech Jim




Session in the WCSJ 2013 conference programme, abstract and CV’s of participants: http://wcsj2013.org/science-journalism-totalitarian-countries-impacts-current-time/

See also a shorter session report with press echo as part of the EUSJA conference report: https://www.eusja.org/midsummer-ethics-by-wolfgang-c-goede/



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