FOR 38 YEARS, the Soviet Union has employed sophisticated electronic "jamming" devices to prevent Western broadcasts from bringing the truth to the people of the Soviet bloc. This week, the Soviet jamming abruptly stopped in what could be a significant new step toward easing the repression in Soviet society.
The latest Soviet move, which came unannounced, affected the Russian-language broadcasts of Radio Liberty, an American-financed station that broadcasts to the Soviet Union. Its programs are now being heard "loud and clear" in the western part of the Soviet Union as far as Central Asia. Soviet jamming was also ended against a West German and Israeli radio station.
The welcome move was not entirely unexpected in view of the new Soviet openness under Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the earlier halt in the jamming directed against other stations.
Last year, jamming was ended against the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corp. Today, the Voice of America even has an office in Moscow.
Jamming against Radio Free Europe, which broadcasts to the Soviet-bloc countries, has gradually been ended in recent years, except in Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, where hard-line regimes still continue it despite the lead taken by Moscow.
The timing of the Soviet move could well have been influenced by Gorba chev's visit to the United Nations next week. In addition, the Soviet Union has displayed conciliatory signs at the talks now going on in Vienna concerning a review of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Russians want the review of human rights issues to be held in Moscow, and the radio jamming has been an obstacle to agreement.
Radio Liberty will now be able to carry on its activities under much-improved conditions and is considering additions to its programs, such as music, which is difficult to broadcast in the face of jamming, and call-in telephone interviews with Soviet people.
About 16 million Russians have heard the broadcasts in the past, despite the jamming, and the audience could increase now.
However, the Western radio stations are not disposing of their anti-jamming equipment yet, since there is no way of knowing whether the Soviets might at some time resume the war of the airwaves. They still have some 2,000 powerful jamming transmitters throughout the Soviet bloc, and they could be switched on again at a moment's notice.
The end of the jamming is as welcome and encouraging as many of the other changes that Gorbachev has introduced, but the future remains uncertain. The Soviet Union is freer than it was four years ago, but it still is a long way from becoming a free country. And so there is not yet any occasion for euphoria.