811.91261/11–3048: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Smith) to the Secretary of State


2787. Censorship regulations for newspaper correspondents in USSR at present require that two copies of telegraph despatches be filed through censorship window at telegraph office and two copies of any article for publication which is later to be mailed. (Re Deptel 1340, November 23.1)

At present American correspondents file at censorship window three copies of telegraphic despatches, one of which they receive back when censored usually with indication of material deleted. If despatch not sent, he is handed piece of paper on which is written his name, number of filed message and the words “ne poidet”—in other words, “killed by censor”. Entire despatches sometimes held days or weeks without giving reasons, leaving only recourse for correspondent write Press Department Foreign Office.

Under above system correspondent has no control over material actually despatched by telegraph over his signature. He only learns what has been deleted after despatch has gone and even then censor sometimes does not accurately mark deleted portions on third copy. Routine cables take from half hour to several hours pass censorship. Longer despatches usually based on articles in Soviet periodicals often take several days. On material to be sent by mail original is returned to correspondent with censored passages heavily inked out or in event numerous censured items correspondent may be asked make clean copy. Material thus passed by censor and stamped approved may be mailed abroad.

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Press telephone calls abroad may be made only from special room at telephone office. Two copies of material to be phoned handed in at censorship window and upon return approved copy, it constitutes authorization telephone operator put through call. Correspondent supposed read only from approved copy. Believe calls not monitored simultaneously by censor but recording taken and deviations could well lead future difficulties.

The censorship is entirely arbitrary and unpredictable. Quite often material taken directly from Soviet sources will be killed by censor. Worst aspect of censorship, however, is that cabled despatches go out censored often giving impression contrary to original without correspondent having opportunity argue, change or withdraw despatch.2

  1. Not printed.
  2. In this connection Ambassador Smith expressed his conviction in telegram 2814 from Moscow on December 2, not printed, that deliberate deception resulting from censorship should not be concealed from the public: “As I have previously stated orally to officials of the Department and to publishers at home, I consider it unfair to the American public and to the American correspondents in Moscow, if not downright dishonest, that press dispatches from the Soviet Union which are tailored by Soviet censor to fit aims of Soviet propaganda appear in the American press without a clear preceding indication that they have been subjected to and passed by Soviet censors. I continue to feel the same way and all the officers on my staff as well as every American citizen correspondent in Moscow shares this feeling. I believe positive action by the Department with regard this matter is overdue and that such action is in fact a responsibility which we have toward American public.” (861.918/12–248)