President Kennedy Comments On Voice Of America and RFE
Commentary for Cold War Radio Museum by Ted Lipien
In his February 26, 1962 speech to mark the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America (VOA), President John Kennedy discussed the necessity of freedom of information and complete truthfulness of the press, but he also argued that the Voice of America is different from private U.S. news media. He pointed out that VOA managers, editors and broadcasters have a more difficult job than private media reporters and a much higher level of responsibility in carrying out their mission on behalf of the United States Government and the American people. “I believe that over the years, faced with this very difficult challenge, far more difficult than that of an American editor or a newspaperman, or a commentator on an American radio or television station, you have been able to tell our story in a way which makes it believable and credible,” President Kennedy said in his remarks to VOA government managers and broadcasters.
In his earlier comments on U.S. international broadcasting, President Kennedy in prepared remarks for a meeting with the Radio Free Europe Fund at the White House on February 7, 1962 outlined a significantly different, more vigorous and broader mission for U.S. supported surrogate radios: Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Radio Free Europe Fund was run by a group of businessmen and other prominent Americans who solicited private funds for the American-managed stations based since the early 1950s in Munich, West Germany. These contributions from private Americans represented only a very small part of the organization’s budget – the rest of the money came secretly at the time from the CIA, as did some of the key American managers, while the language services themselves were operated by refugee journalists and political activists living in exile. President Kennedy noted that Voice of America broadcasts alone were not enough to overcome censorship behind the Iron Curtain.
We have, as you know, a powerful instrument in the information world in the Voice of America. It will play a vital role in the resurgence of the Eastert European countries. But it is not enough. The Voice of America is the voice of this Government. Radio Free Europe must be the voice not only of our people, but of the people of all of Europe. RFE must continue to help get the truth behind the Iron Curtain. It must give them information which their Soviet-dominated chieftans would keep from them.[ref]Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. President’s Office Files. Subjects. Radio Free Europe Fund[/ref]
President John F. Kennedy, Prepared Remarks to Radio Free Europe Fund, February 7, 1962
In his prepared remarks to supporters of Radio Free Europe, Kennedy described the Voice of America as “the voice of this Government,” but judging from his later use of this term, he did not mean that VOA should only be the voice of the White House and the administration. He offered a more precise description of the Voice of America for the audience listening to his speech at the 20th anniversary ceremonies, calling VOA “an arm of the Government and therefore an arm of the Nation.”