197. Memorandum From the Acting Director of the United States Information Agency (Washburn) to the President 1


  • Voice of America Broadcasts to Hungary

[Here follows discussion of schedule, format, and basic policy.]

Tone and Content: As the official voice of the U.S. Government, the tone of VOA broadcasts has been kept straightforward, factual, forceful—in line with Director Streibert’s memorandum to the President of October 27, 1953.2 Stridency and inflammatory content have been avoided. Programs have relied on truth, objective news coverage, and commentary from the U.S. policy viewpoint.

The main lines of emphasis during the period from November 1954 to the Geneva Summit Meeting3 were: (1) to keep alive behind the Iron Curtain the idea and hope of freedom, (2) to reflect U.S. interest in and concern for the welfare of the East European peoples, (3) to state periodically that the U.S. could not accept Soviet domination of the enslaved peoples of satellite Eastern Europe as permanent, (4) to voice U.S. support of the right of the peoples of Eastern Europe to governments and institutions of their own choosing, and reinforce the belief that the Soviet puppet regimes can not meet the test of history, (5) to foster satellite nationalism, and (6) to keep alive a sense of identification with Western ideals.

In compliance with NSC directives, these lines of emphasis did encourage the satellite people to stand fast in the face of their Soviet dominated regimes. However, VOA did not incite to revolt nor did it in any way commit the U.S. to any action to restore liberty to the Soviet satellite nations. For the most part the above lines were formulated in public statements by high-level U.S. Government officials and were emphasized as appropriate in VOA output.

After the Summit Meeting these lines were modified upon the recommendation of Minister Ravndal, who expressed the view that the Hungarian people did not need to be reminded of Soviet oppression—that they were already doing all that could properly be expected of them, and were aware of U.S. sympathy. Accordingly, VOA output to Hungary placed greater emphasis on news of important world developments [Page 471] of interest to the Hungarian people, on features depicting American life and thought, and on the theme of peaceful change. Also, after the 20th Congress of the CPSU, a major effort was made to encourage evolutionary changes weakening the ties binding the satellites to the Soviet Union. This was promoted primarily by cross-reporting evolutionary actions and trends within the Soviet orbit.

Recent Programming: During the uprising of the Hungarian people, which began October 23, VOA neither encouraged nor discouraged the Hungarian freedom fighters; it sought only to keep the Hungarian people informed as best it could. Broadcasts to Hungary consisted entirely of heavy news coverage of the Hungarian developments and reporting world reaction to the events in Hungary. The statements of the President and the actions taken in the UN were given the fullest coverage. With respect to developments taking place in Hungary on which we had to rely in large measure on Hungarian sources, extreme caution was exercised to avoid broadcasting back news which might prove inaccurate or inflammatory. All news carried in the broadcasts was centrally gathered and carefully edited.

In its tone, the Hungarian broadcasts were calm, factual, and objective. Care was taken to omit material, although verified, which might have had an incendiary effect on the Hungarian audience, such as stories concerning Soviet atrocities. Certain programs even warned the freedom fighters to be cautious and not go too fast.

Anna Kethly, a leader of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party, and a member of the Imre Nagy Government, at a press conference in Washington last week stated that the Hungarian uprising was a spontaneous revolt and was not instigated by any outside source. U.S. broadcasts kept the patriots informed, but did not inspire their actions.

Abbott Washburn 4
  1. Source: Department of State, USIA/IOP Files: Lot 63 A 190, Hungarian Situation—1956. Confidential. Two annexes dealing, respectively, with examples of VOA programming prior to and during the revolt and a Presidential statement on USIA’s mission are not printed.
  2. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. II, Part 2, p. 1754.
  3. In July 1955.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.