18. Memorandum From Paul Henze of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • International Broadcasting Issues—Comments, Questions and Answers

The following may be useful to you in discussing these matters with the President:

1. The BIB , by law, is charged only with sponsorship of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. The ambitions of certain BIB board and staff members notwithstanding, it could not extend its responsibilities—to take over VOA, e.g.—without new legislation.

2. The first priority with the BIB is to get a new chairman for it and to appoint new members replacing those whose terms are running out. David Abshire has already resigned as Chairman and two members’ terms, those of Foy Kohler and John P. Roche, run out on 30 April.

3. An important criterion for selecting a new chairman for BIB is to get a man who will work flexibly and openly with the Carter administration and who will be dedicated to strengthening the effectiveness of RFE/RL. John Gronouski appears to us to have these qualities. Frank Stanton, whose appointment is being advocated by Senators Percy and McGovern and certain BIB staff members (e.g. Walter Roberts) is the principal advocate of a scheme for putting RFE/RL and VOA under BIB control and for expanding the BIB as a semi-autonomous entity for controlling all U.S. international radio broadcasting. [Page 48] These are very controversial proposals which no department or agency endorses.

4. The BIB has been successfully established over the past three years and is a good formula for sponsorship of RFE/RL (replacing CIA funding and control) but it has developed a tendency to become an extra layer of management with its own continually increasing staff. The radios feel that it interferes too much in day-to-day operations and tends to pre-empt decisions that are more properly left to the RFE/RL board of directors (chaired by John Hayes, of the Washington Post-Newsweek radio/TV empire).

5. The BIB has an important but limited role to play. It should not become involved in management of the radios. It should not get into jursidictional disputes with other U.S. Government elements, trying to take over VOA, e.g. Its staff should be kept lean and confine its efforts to true oversight/review functions, as required by law, and to representing RFE/RL with the Congress.

6. In the form in which it has existed up until now, the BIB has been dominated by David Abshire, a Nixon appointee, who also heads a research center at Georgetown University.2 Foy Kohler has played a positive role in the BIB, but he has pressed to have too many positions in the radios filled by retired FSO’s and USIS people. We need younger, more vigorous people for these demanding jobs. John P. Roche has been disappointing as a BIB member. The two other BIB members, John T. Murphy, President of AVCO Broadcasting in Cincinnati, and Thomas H. Quinn, a young Washington lawyer with no visible qualifications for the job, were originally appointed for two years and (unfortunately) reappointed for three more last year. The prime reason for appointment of Murphy was that he was proposed by Senator Taft, while Quinn was a protege of Senator Pastore. (Congress simply played favorites here, but there was apparently no effort by the Executive Branch to propose more effective people.) We could certainly find better people than these two to serve on this Board, but for the time being emphasis must be on filling the two vacancies that occur as of 30 April when Kohler’s and Roche’s terms run out.

7. Griffith, whom we are proposing to replace Kohler, is an ideal choice from the viewpoint of both knowledge of the radios, in depth, and knowledge of Eastern Europe and the USSR.

8. Since one of the most important functions of the Board is to serve as the radios’ interface with Congress, we feel a former Congressman would be useful on the Board—preferably one with an interest in [Page 49] international affairs. Also, since only three BIB members can belong to one political party, the Congressman should be Republican. We now have clearance from Frank Moore’s office to offer the other BIB vacancy to Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen, former Congressman from the 5th District of New Jersey, who decided not to run at the end of the 94th Congress and has retired to private life. (If he turns out not to be interested we have two other possibilities, both former House members: Clark MacGregor of Minnesota and Edward Biester of Pennsylvania.)

9. There is considerable Congressional interest in BIB . In the House, Dante Fascell, who controls their appropriations, tends to take the deepest interest. In the Senate, Senators Humphrey, Percy and McGovern, among others, have been strong supporters. Though Senators Percy and McGovern have written the President advocating appointment of Frank Stanton as BIB Chairman, there is not much reason to believe that any Congressional group would want to challenge (or could effectively challenge) strong Presidential leadership in matters relating to the BIB or international broadcasting in general.

10. There is also not much reason to expect any serious challenge in Congress to Executive proposals for increased funds for new transmitters for all the radios (including VOA) and for more modest sums to permit RFE/RL to hire younger editors from among recent emigres and to expand broadcasting in Soviet minority languages—aims which are very much in accord with basic Administration foreign policy objectives and our championing of human rights.

11. Over the years, the costs of these radios have increased at a far slower rate than costs of weaponry or costs of intelligence-collecting. It can be argued that they are, nevertheless, of major significance for achieving our national security objectives even though they cost—all together—only a minute fraction of what we spend on a single weapons system. As we try to bring our national security expenditures into better balance, we should consider investing more in international broadcasting. If the Administration makes a strong case, Congress is likely to support it.

12. You are quite right in feeling that matters relating to the BIB and to RFE/RL should not be permitted to get mixed up with broader questions relating to VOA . It may be useful, nevertheless, to review some background on the VOA “problem” and to brief the President on this subject when you have the opportunity.

13. Over the past year or so a good deal of agitation, both within and outside of VOA, has developed for “independence” or “autonomy”. Some people advocate setting up the VOA on the same basis as the BBC. Others want to put it under the BIB. Some apparently envision melding RFE/RL and VOA into a single international broadcasting service. Much of the thinking behind these proposals is fuzzy and the implications have not been well thought through.

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14. It is alleged that VOA’s broadcasts have suffered from governmental interference which has both (a) kept it from broadcasting completely on certain delicate topics and (b) forced it to take particular lines on subjects the State Department or the White House felt strongly about at particular times. The arguments tend to be over very fine points and tend to cancel each other out. Considering the challenges VOA has had to face over recent years—coping with the Vietnam withdrawal, Watergate, problems of domestic dissidence—a strong case can be made that it has carried out its mission extremely well. (During the past 7½ years it has been headed by Ken Giddens, an Alabama Republican broadcasting executive who has set an all-time record for tenure in his job and seems to have performed very well.)

15. In any event, there are strong arguments against reaching conclusions on the basis of the unusual circumstances which have existed during the past few years. A case could be made also that the strongest proponents of “autonomy” for the VOA and of placing VOA under BIB along with RFE/RL, tend to make “best case” assumptions about the way the world is going to develop during the next decade or two and “worst case” assumptions about the way the U.S. Government is going to operate. According to their contentions, the VOA is always in danger of being misused by the White House, the State Department or some other element of the U.S. Government for short-term, tendentious, partisan or other narrow purposes. Only an “independent” VOA can allegedly broadcast objectively (whatever that is supposed to mean). This is very specious argumentation. If VOA could broadcast with objectivity during the difficult Watergate period (I listened to it continually during this time; its performance was outstanding), the greatest period of strain the U.S. Government has experienced since the Civil War, why shouldn’t we expect it to operate effectively in the future when we have no reason to expect such strains again soon?

16. The 35-year history of the VOA provides very little evidence of tendentious broadcasting or misuse by particular Administrations. It may have been overly polemic in the 1950’s (more so than RFE at times) and slow to report news of major interest to its listeners; more often it was accused of being dull. But critics of radio stations usually run the full gamut of possible accusations and extreme criticisms are seldom a very good standard for judging impact. During the past 10–15 years, VOA has settled into a pattern of very competent broadcasting of news, entertainment and features about American life that clearly appeal to listeners and keep them well informed. (I have listened to VOA steadily during my time abroad over the past eight years and consider that it is doing an excellent job of what can reasonably be expected of it.)

17. Why shouldn’t the VOA be under direct U.S. Government management and present itself as the Voice of the U.S. Government and, ipso facto, [Page 51] the American people? Whom, really, would an “independent” or “autonomous” VOA represent? Why shouldn’t the VOA reflect American policies and explain American government positions? Obviously, it should not be narrowly propagandistic, but why assume that a properly led U.S. Government is going to want it to be? Why should the U.S. Government abdicate responsibility for managing a major information instrument in a world that wishes to have American positions and American values explained to it and wishes to be informed on what is happening in the United States?

18. An Administration which divested itself of control over VOA might well find that it had created more problems for itself than it had eliminated. There is the danger that VOA could drift into an adversary position against the government; this is probably less serious danger than decline in effectiveness and relevance.

19. None of this is to say that VOA could not benefit from some improvements. Tight budgets and strict adherence to civil service requirements have resulted in broadcast staffs that tend toward the elderly and unimaginative. There is a case to be made for broadcasting in more languages, for there is now hardly any corner of the world where cheap radio receivers are not within reach of practically everyone. There is, also a case for reviewing VOA’s position in our governmental structure and for taking a fresh look at the way in which it is given policy and administrative guidance. But this should be done objectively and by persons free of the partisan views that have grown up around some of these questions in the past few years.

20. All of the U.S. Government’s international broadcasting instruments have been essentially marking time during recent years. Technically, they are all behind their competitors. A program for strengthening them needs to be put into effect immediately. They have all been kept under such tight budgetary restrictions that they have not been able to experiment with more creative programming approaches or more appealing ways of delivering news and information. They need to be given the means of doing so. Both technically and substantively, they need to be infused with new dynamism. Technical developments which are now on the horizon—direct satellite broadcasting, e.g.—may provide the means of greatly increasing the impact of our international broadcasting instruments a few years from now. We should rejuvenate them so that they can take full advantage of what technological breakthroughs may offer.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Horn/Special (Henze), Box 1, Chron File: 3/77. Confidential. Printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XX, Eastern Europe, Document 47.
  2. Reference is to the Georgetown Center or Center for Strategic and International Studies, which was affiliated with Georgetown University until the late 1980s.