Voice of America during the Cold War

Aim of the public diplomacy project

To identify the role of the Voice of America and its impact on the world.

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Scenario: The Context in which the activity took place/issue it sought to address

The Voice of America is the legitimate extrinsic broadcast organization of the United States of America. After World War 2 the USA decided against airing its content in Russian especially for the civilians of the Soviet Union (Nelson 51). The alleged reason for this was to respond in retaliation to “more harmful instances of Soviet propaganda directed against American leaders and policies on the part of the internal Soviet Russian-language media” (“Voice of America” par. 1), according to John Whitton. The reaction of the Soviet Union was introducing electronic jamming of the Voice of America two years later.

The Voice of America broadcasts were determined as a part of external tactics to resist the propaganda and disinformation of not the only Soviet Union but other countries as well. The broadcasts of the Voice of America were not limited to the Soviet territory. At the beginning of 1950, the Arabic service had been restarted on the terms of a half-hour performance. The broadcast advanced to 14.5 hours a day during the Suez Crisis in 1956, and by 1958 the listeners were able to tune in for six hours a day. “During the 1950s and 1960s, VOA broadcast American jazz, which was highly popular worldwide. For example, a program aimed at South Africa in 1956 broadcast two hours nightly, along with special programs such as The Newport Jazz Festival” (“Voice of America” par. 7). The broadcasts of the Voice of America were financed by the authorities of many intended countries, which led to disputes about its significance.

Program Activity: Describe succinctly the PD response to this scenario

A Russian traitor once stated that “your [Voice of America] Russian broadcasts undermine the Soviet regime and completely nullify the Communist propaganda behind the Iron Curtain. Your broadcasts are a weapon more powerful than the atomic bomb” (Fahey par. 12). According to the surveys, the broadcasts of the Voice of America achieved more than two hundred million listeners in the Soviet Union while the population of the country was behind the Iron Curtain due to Communist oppression. The particular target of the radio service was “to tell the world the truth about the United States and its people. Because America is so far removed from the Old World and presents so many distinctive features in every sphere of life, economic, social, political, and cultural, there is a vital need to broadcast this truth throughout the world” (Fahey par. 13).
Under the model of the Voice of America, the effort to show the diversity and the singleness of the American community had been made. The primary expectation of the broadcast was to create an empathetic comprehension of people throughout the world towards Americans by the means of enlightening them about the mode of life and beliefs of the American people. The essence of this concept was illustrated by R. Peter Strauss, who was assumed to be the director of the Voice of America in 1977: “I really foresee taking a highly professional group of people and trying to excite them about making the freest democracy in the world understandable to the rest of the world – not necessarily loved by, nor even necessarily liked by but understood by the rest of the world” (Uttaro 109). This concept is considered to be clear, truthful, and conclusive.
The main intention was to set a constructive dialogue with all countries and impact them by showing a good example of administration in the country. However, despite the concept of impacting the whole world, the efforts had been directed mainly to the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe. Malcolm Toon, former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, “complained to the Carter administration that the Voice of America broadcasts contained excessive coverage of dissident news that was out of proportion with the rest of the news” (Uttaro 114). The studies and researches would depict that the main audience of the Voice of America broadcasts was young men and women in equal numbers, the most impressionable part of the population. Moreover, the weekly increase had reached 23 percent.

As a result, the attempts of diplomacy directed towards the Soviet population had made an impact on it beyond any doubt. One of the beneficial outcomes in broadcasting the Voice of America during the Cold War is accelerating the increasing assurance that was enjoyed by the independent world. Moreover, it is considered that the broadcasts helped to win the elections in the United Nations which were known to be intensely disapproving of the Communist politics and aggression, and not only within the limits of the democratic countries but also in such strategically important countries in Europe as Italy and France.

Analysis What does your example demonstrate?

The Voice of America broadcast succeeded as the most widely known and auditioned foreign radio transmission in the vast of the Soviet Union. Even though the initially announced territory of the broadcast would cover most countries in the world, the primary target of the program was the population of the Soviet nations. The broadcast was so successful that “in the early 1980s, the Voice of America began a $1.3 billion rebuilding program to improve broadcast with better technical capabilities” (“Voice of America” par. 10). Moreover, around that time a television service for the broadcast was established. However, the original promise to deliver the truth to the listeners faded over time.

For instance, the leaders of America have been authorized to describe the anti-democratic situation in the Dominican Republic as ‘insurgent’. Furthermore, the news writers of the Voice of America were not able to illustrate several conflicts at all, as it was not allowed to base the stories for the broadcast on the speculations and allegations (Cull 115).
“Advocating the cause of freedom is one thing; tampering with reality to make freedom more appealing is quite another” (Uttaro 119). This quote by Ralph Uttaro can demonstrate the essence of my research. The impact of the Voice of America on the Soviet Union is hard to overestimate: it had been a powerful source of information until it had lost its initial objective. The Voice of America along with the Soviet Union impairing the image of the American nation created a propaganda war between the two nations reaching predominance over the world.

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Learning point – What can others learn from this case?

The case of the Voice of America demonstrates the power of public diplomacy. Moreover, in the example of the Voice of America it could be said that to establish a better environment for compelling transmission activity, the listeners have to acknowledge its impact on them.

Sources for scenario and activity (including links to the project website, online video, or reference to the project in print media)

Cull, Nicholas. The Decline and Fall of the United States Information Agency. London, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan. 2012. Print.

Fahey, James. n.d. Voice of America and the United States’ Public Diplomacy: The Cold War, technology and the post 9/11 Muslim World. n.d. Web.

Nelson, Michael. War of the Black Heavens: The Battles of Western Broadcasting in the Cold War. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press. 1997. Print.

Uttaro, Ralph. “The Voices of America in International Radio Propaganda.” Law and Contemporary Problems 45.1 (1982):103-122. Print.

Voice of America 2010. Web.

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