200. Memorandum From the Director of the International Broadcasting Service (Button) to the Acting Director of the United States Information Agency (Washburn)1


  • Comment on Budapest Cable No. 324 of November 19, 19562

We have read Budapest cable No. 324 of November 19, 1956, particularly the third paragraph, with much interest.

For many years, the relationship between our Legation in Budapest and the Voice of America was a model of cooperation, support and understanding between the field and Washington. In a steady stream of telegrams, despatches and official-informal communications, the Legation in Budapest continuously and immediately informed Washington of developments in Hungary and usually made recommendations as to how these developments were to be treated by the media. The former minister to Budapest, Mr. Ravndal, was a strong believer in the necessity and efficiency of VOA programming to Hungary, once calling it the most effective arm of American policy in Hungary and his staff shared this view. On his return to the United States last summer, on the occasion of a Hungarian-American celebration in Cleveland, Ambassador Ravndal requested that his address there in Hungarian be broadcast to Hungary by the Voice and this was done with wide coverage.3

A number of the recommendations and suggestions made by our mission in Budapest could not be used either because of the volume of the suggestions or because of the necessity to maintain in Hungarian output a careful balance and necessary attention to commentaries on American foreign policy and features and other material projecting the American way of life. Because of over-all policy considerations, it was normally impossible for the Hungarian Service to use suggestions made by the mission in Budapest that it speculate on certain developments as they occurred.

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The list of official messages from the Legation in Budapest containing media recommendations is very long and the recommendations themselves usually most detailed. To cite but a few examples of recent months, Telegram 428 of May 23 and Telegram 431 of May 254 analysed the ferment within organizations and groups in Hungary and recommended review of what it termed the miserable failures of the Communist regime. The Legation asked that the media play up the rich and varied life in the contemporary United States, and by inference stress the barrenness of life under Communist rule (for example, Telegram 431 of June 1).5 The Legation called attention to the many efforts of the Communist regime to mislead the Hungarian public and called on us to expose the true aims of Communism (for example, Telegram 457 of June 19 and Telegram 3 of July 2).6

During the two months immediately preceding the insurrection in Hungary, the Legation frequently recommended the exploitation of the demands of the intellectual groups for more freedom. In doing so, Hungarian Service output constantly kept in mind the recommendation that the intent of their reporting these demands should not be to encourage these intellectuals further, but to make their attitudes known to the Hungarian public at large, and that treatment of these matters should be phrased so as to make them intelligible to the workers and peasants.

The mission in Budapest had probably the outstanding record among Iron Curtain missions in monitoring our output. Under approved arrangement, until the uprising there was a weekly exchange of “official-informal” communications between the Hungarian Service Chiefs in Washington and Munich and officers of the Legation in Budapest in which programming was discussed in detail. In addition to this weekly review of Hungarian output the mission in despatch form at various intervals submitted official monitoring reports and review of scripts. The three recent—most at hand are dated January 26, May 9, and July 27, 1956.7 The pertinent parts thereof by despatch number and date are quoted below.

Legdes 272 of January 26, 1956

“In regard to tone and content, the monitors’ evaluation of the broadcasts is that the VOA is performing creditably. The general approach is sober and dignified.”

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Legdes 432 of May 9, 1956

“. . .8 VOA Washington’s coverage of de-Stalinization, in the opinion of the monitors, has been well handled. Broadcasts on theatrical and literary life in the United States have been good. This aspect of VOA broadcasting will deserve continuing care and attention as the writers’ revolt continues and writers express their open discontent with the straitjacket in which Hungarian literature has been placed.”

Legdes 30 of July 27, 1956

“The VOA Washington scripts, embracing as they do the period of the Petofi Club activities and the ‘resignation’ of Matyas Rakosi, treat a critical phase of Hungary’s recent history. Judged by this background the scripts are distinguished by the fine balance which VOA Washington maintained during this period. A perusal of the scripts gives the feeling that a regular listener to these broadcasts would receive the impression that the flow of world events was toward greater freedoms and that in abetting this flow the Hungarian people were playing their traditional liberty-loving role. Highly commendable is the series of programs on human rights. Coming at the present, this series emphasizes the fact that at least some Hungarian Communists are rediscovering basic ideas of freedom already beyond the realm of exploratory debate in the West, and which as such are ingrained elements in the outlook of the majority of Hungarians. Cross satellite reporting has in the judgment of the drafting officer9 been effectively handled. The sensational Polish events plus the more sober Hungarian developments were handled in a manner that was well calculated to support the indigenous pressures toward greater freedom. The reporting of cultural life in the West has been good and has very likely supported the cultural agitation which has marked the general restiveness in Hungary in recent months.

A noticeable decline in the handling of purely Hungarian news has on the whole been judicious programming policy. Before trends are pushed further in the direction, however, consideration should be given to two factors: 1) people like Tibor Dery and Tibor Tardos,10 who spearheaded the recent Petofi Club affair are undoubtedly gratified and influenced by Western interest in their activities and should whenever possible be given full publicity, if not to their persons, then to their activities; 2) although the Hungarian press has undoubtedly shown a trend toward liberalizing its publication of domestic news, [Page 479] VOA can still furnish an important service in a field into which the Hungarians are moving with hesitancy and caution.11

The VOA Munich scripts available at the time this despatch was written were a limited number of selected manuscripts received at this post for the period indicated above. These selections included a half dozen or more commentaries by Laszlo Boros.12 As the only ‘personality’ developed by the Hungarian VOA, Mr. Boros performs a valuable service in the field of propaganda broadcasts to Hungary. His commentaries are generally marked by an imaginativeness which observes a delicate balance between undue caution on one hand and excessive freedom on the other.”

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 511.404/11–2856. Secret. Drafted by Alexander A. Klieforth, Chief of the Eastern European Branch of the International Broadcasting Service (IBS/PME). Attached to a memorandum from E. Lewis Revey, Chief of the Soviet Orbit Staff in the Office of Policy and Programs of USIA (IOP/LS), to Ralph S. Collins, Public Affairs Adviser of the Office of Eastern European Affairs (EE).
  2. Document 198.
  3. The speech was broadcast in August and September. (Telegrams 53 and 65 to Budapest, August 20 and 31, respectively; Department of State, Central Files, 123–Ravndal, Christian M.)
  4. Neither printed. (Ibid., 764.00/5–2356 and 764.00/5–2556, respectively)
  5. Reference should be to telegram 434, June 1, not printed. (Ibid., 864.412/6–156)
  6. Neither printed. (Ibid., 764.00/6–1956 and 964.61/7–256, respectively)
  7. They are all ibid., 511.644.
  8. Ellipsis in the source text.
  9. Anton Nyerges.
  10. Déry and Tardos were later sentenced to 2–4 years imprisonment in November 1957 for their role in the rebellion.
  11. A paragraph was here omitted from despatch 30, which dealt with VOA Washington programs.
  12. Boros, after a career as an editor in Hungary, France, and the United States, became editor-in-chief of the Hungarian VOA unit in Munich in May 1952.