Glasnost, explained Soviet human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, is a word that "had been in the Russian language for centuries. It was in the dictionaries and lawbooks as long as there had been dictionaries and lawbooks. It was an ordinary, hardworking, nondescript word that was used to refer to a process, any process of justice or governance, being conducted in the open."
In 1986 the term was used by Mikhail Gorbachev as a political slogan for increased openness and transparency in government institutions and activities in the Soviet Union (USSR). Glasnost reflected a commitment to getting Soviet citizens to discuss publicly the problems of their system and seek solutions. Gorbachev encouraged popular scrutiny and criticism of leaders, as well as the airing of mass media. Critics aware of the term's recent history regarded the Soviet authorities' new slogan as a vague and limited alternative to more basic liberties; According to Alexei Simonov of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, "Glasnost is a tortoise crawling towards freedom of speech".
In the six years when the USSR attempted to reform itself, glasnost was often linked with the similar reformational concepts of perestroika (literally: restructuring or regrouping) and demokratizatsiya (democratisation). Glasnost was frequently invoked by Gorbachev in connection with policies aimed at reducing corruption at the top of the Communist Party and the Soviet government, and moderation of the abuse of administrative power in the Central Committee.
Glasnost can also be used to define the brief and distinctive period from 1986–91, at the end of which the USSR ceased to exist. It was a time of decreasing pre-publication and pre-broadcast censorship and greater freedom of information, but censorship or the central control of information by the government and the Party remained a fundamental element of the Soviet system until the very end.
The outright prohibition of censorship was enshrined in Article 29 of the new 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation. This did not end attempts by officials to restrict access to information in post-Soviet Russia or pressure by the authorities on media outlets not to publicise or discuss certain events or subjects. Monitoring of the infringement of media rights in the years from 2004 to 2013 would find that instances of censorship were the most commonly reported type of violation (see "Russia - Conflicts in the Media" website and database).