President Bush Orders a Review of US Government International Broadcasting Activities
Following World War II, State Department officials, skeptical of the diplomatic value of programs they considered “propaganda,” persuaded Congress to cut allocations severely for Voice of America (VOA) radio programs that had been established during World War II to communicate US war aims to populations abroad. In late 1947, however, a committee of senators traveling in Europe reported “a campaign of vilification and misrepresentation” conducted by the Soviet Union’s newly formed propaganda agency Cominform to discredit the Marshall Plan. Congress subsequently passed the Smith-Mundt Act—with the Senate voting unanimously in its favor—to establish a permanent peacetime program “to promote the better understanding of the United States among the peoples of the world and to strengthen cooperative international relations.” President Harry S. Truman signed the bill into law in January 1948, and funding for international cultural and information programs was greatly increased. Also in 1948, Radio in the American Sector in Berlin (RIAS), which had been established two years earlier as a broadcasting service of the US occupation authority in Germany, gained new importance during the Berlin blockade and began to direct broadcasts to East Germany. Radio Free Europe (RFE) was established in 1949 along the lines of RIAS to broadcast to Eastern European countries. Radio Liberty (RL) began in 1951 to broadcast to the Soviet Union. Both RFE and RL were privately owned, but secretly funded by Congress through the CIA, and as such, they engaged in psychological warfare campaigns that were deemed inappropriate for VOA. In 1953, the United States Information Agency (USIA) was created as an independent agency reporting directly to the president as the organization responsible for communicating US policy abroad and carrying out much of the government’s international information and cultural programs, and it took over from the State Department the VOA program. USIA’s official mission statement—“to persuade foreign peoples that it lies in their own interest to take actions which are also consistent with the national objectives of the United States”—guided many of its programs. In the following White House directive issued in March 1990 as the Cold War was winding down, President George H. W. Bush called for a policy review of US international broadcasting activities in light of the rapid changes occurring in Eastern Europe.
George H. W. Bush, "Review of U.S. Government International Broadcasting Activities," 28 March 1990, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).
In light of the dramatic political, economic and social changes in the Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe, I am directing that a National Security Review be undertaken of the international broadcasting activities of the United States Government. The review will be chaired by the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Senior Director for International Programs, and should be completed by May 31, 1990.
In a time of international transition, this National Security Review should provide the basis for short-term decisions concerning broadcasting activities over the next two years. The review should consider the activities of the Voice of America, USIA Television, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Radio in the American Sector of Berlin (RIAS). Because the implications of East-West change transcend U.S. interests in the European and transatlantic areas, the Review should encompass U.S. Government radio and television broadcasting to foreign audiences worldwide.
The review should examine the mission of U.S. Government international broadcasting activities in the context of overall U.S. foreign policy objectives. It should consider the future role of U.S. Government broadcasting at a time when many, but not all, parts of the world enjoy an increasingly free flow of information, including indigenous free media and access to Western commercial broadcasting. The review should cover planning, programming and resource implications, including allocation of limited resources to various regions, countries, and languages.