Friday, January 11, 2008

News Media Opposition To Strategic Communications During The Cold War

Troubles with running strategic communications operations are nothing new. Today the biggest obstacles seem to be apathy and failure to adapt to new technological and communications realities, but during the Cold War, the opposition actually came from America's own news media:

Assaults on the [Voice of America] came not only from outside the country but from within...The principle attacks were twofold: in Congress on the budget front and from the news agencies.

The attack by the news agencies, Associated Press (AP) and the United Press (UP), is important because it encapsulated the great American tradition of freedom of information but , paradoxically, hindered the attempts of government to impart the principles of that freedom to the totalitarian states of the world.

In January 1946 the AP and UP told [Ass't Sec. for Public Affairs William] Benton they were going to stop supplying their news services to the VOA. That move would leave the VOA with only the International News Service (INS), which had a thin U.S. domestic service...and Reuters, which at that time supplied only international news in the Untied States. AP and UP said that by selling their services to the U.S. government overseas information service they ran the risk of accusations that they were controlled by the U.S. government, which might damage overseas sales. Benton "let out a blast against AP and UP," as he claimed, pointing out that the Soviet government news agency, TASS, and the BBC received U.S. news from the AP and that had not affected AP's reputation for objectivity. So why would supplying the VOA do so? The AP and UP then tried to persuade editors to present a resolution at the convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in Washington, D.C., in April 1946 that would condemn the VOA and demand the end of the State Department's international information services.

An ASNE committee investigated and concluded that the State Department's information was in the national interest. So the attempt by the AP and UP to shut down the VOA failed, but the AP still refused to let the VOA use its service except as a check on other news services, and for that they did not charge.

The AP did not give up the battle against the VOA. "Legalisation of peacetime news propaganda and annual multimillion dollar appropriations were finally as a result of a hasty European visit of junketing congressmen, who in the fall of 1947, went to Europe for a look-see," wrote Kent Cooper, chief executive of the AP.

The bizarre attitude of many in the media toward the VOA is exemplified by the fact that for years TASS had a seat in the press gallery of the Senate, but the VOA did not. The same prohibition applied to Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberation, later Radio Liberty, (RL). The Senate arranged for a group of media representatives to set up a committee to decide who should be accredited to the Senate press gallery. They accredited TASS, Pravda, Izvestia, and Radio Moscow, among other communist government organizations, but refused to accredit U.S. government "propaganda" organizations. Only when in 1983 the VOA, the Board for International Broadcasting (BIB), and RFE/RL persuaded the chairmen of the Rules Committee to hold hearings on the ban were the VOA and RFE/RL accredited. Organizations speaking against the VOA and RFE/RL were CBS, U.S. News and World Report, and the AP.

From The War of the Black Heavens: The Battles of Western Broadcasting in the Cold War by Michael Nelson.

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