Characteristics of science coverage in Soviet Estonian newspaper Rahva Hääl



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This study has been exploring the characteristics of science coverage in the Soviet Estonian newspaper Rahva Hääl. It was especially interested how the ideological control exerted on both science and the media manifests itself in the science articles. In a socialist society, the media was an important instrument of social construction, ‘a collective organizer’. Rahva Hääl was the official newspaper of the local Communist Party and hence ranked high in the hierarchy of political control and ideological canonization. On the political level, science was seen as important driver of progress. The need for a strong connection between science and production was constantly emphasized. These aspects become evident also in the few previous studies looking at science coverage in a socialist media. A recent study by Bauer et al. (2006) comparing the science coverage in Bulgaria and Great Britain concluded that the science coverage in Bulgarian media depended on the current policies of the ruling Communist Party. The news items were overwhelmingly positive and laudatory. Science was presented as an unquestioned benefactor of the society. The trends in the intensity of coverage were found to follow similar patterns both in Bulgaria and UK. The underlying ideological message was also seen by Kirpal & Ilsmann (2004) who analyzed science programs in the 1970s DDR. Most contributions included political statements. The goal of the programs was education, not entertainment, the authors conclude. This study looked at the science coverage of Rahva Hääl in 1960 and 1980, combining quantitative and qualitative analysis. Quantitative content analysis gave us the basic parameters of science coverage. There is on average one science item per two news pages but they tend to be short. The articles almost exclusively deal with Soviet topics, outside voices are very rare. Technology is the most prominent area of science, mostly due to extensive coverage of space exploration. The articles often lack a well-defined news motivation. A clear trend towards centralization and institutionalization can be seen when comparing 1960 and 1980. Space coverage forms a special part of the coverage with its own distinct characteristics. Especially the achievements of 1960 are used to celebrate the Soviet system in general. The articles actively engage in ideological construction; language is used to prescribe the meanings of events; a multitude of voices is constructed to create coherence of the message. Other science articles also engage in constructing the image of a model Soviet citizen: modest, diligent, dedicated and young. The primary role of the science is seen to be the creation of new products. However, rather than writing articles about actual results, the items tend to portray work in progress. Science is not explained in the articles. Due to the high level of control and canonization of Rahva Hääl, many characteristics of the science coverage are not unique to science stories but characterize all articles regardless of their topic. The used discourses strongly reflect the guiding principle of Soviet media and science as formulated by the party. This study has only roughly mapped the characteristics of Soviet science coverage. Further, more detailed research is needed and this study has identified many new questions.