23. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1

61257. Subject: VOA Broadcasts to the USSR. Ref: Moscow 3341–C.2

1. USIA and Department are concerned that Embassy finds that VOA’s approach has “changed noticeably in recent weeks.”

2. If Embassy’s conclusion is based solely on fact that there has been substantially heavier coverage of human rights stories, the explanation is straightforward: heavier coverage reflects both the administration’s and U.S. public’s focus on the issue. As you are aware, the new human rights emphasis, especially as it affects U.S.-Soviet relations has generated lively and vocal debate. Media coverage, both in the United States and abroad, has been extraordinarily heavy. VOA has, of course, reported the statements that have emanated from official sources and the subsequent debate in the press. This the VOA has a clear mandate [Page 59] to do; it reports the news as it occurs and tells its listeners how public opinion reacts to it, largely as reflected in domestic US and foreign media.

3. If, on other hand, Embassy believes that, apart from increased volume of coverage, tone and approach have changed and that guidelines are being ignored, we need examples of materials Embassy finds objectionable and/or inappropriate. Since reftel suggests that part of problem may be manner in which some programs are voiced, it would be helpful to have your specific comments on that aspect of situation as well.

4. In the meantime, Embassy should know that broadcasts to the Soviet Union have been under particularly close scrutiny in recent weeks. Indeed, every effort will continue to be made to handle human rights and other sensitive stories in accurate and balanced fashion. In this regard, reftel, as well as Embassy’s earlier communications, are greatly appreciated.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770094–0588. Confidential; Priority. Drafted by Shirley; cleared by Garrison and by telephone by Reinhardt and Tuch; approved by Hartman.
  2. In telegram 3341 from Moscow, March 14, the Embassy reported on a recent conversation Toon had with Arbatov during a reception at Spaso House, wherein Arbatov expressed concerns regarding the U.S. focus on human rights issues. Arbatov “stated that what was most disturbing was the conclusion drawn that the U.S. has mounted a ‛concerted campaign’ against the Soviet Union.” The Embassy noted that when Arbatov and Bogdanov were informed that the Carter administration had spoken out against human rights abuses in other countries, Arbatov and Bogdanov focused on VOA Russian broadcasts “as the clinching evidence for their assertion.” The Embassy concluded that while the Soviets “have an obvious interest in encouraging a ‛moderate’ VOA approach to the USSR, their comments on the Soviet perception of VOA’s Russian Service seem to us not only plausible, but highly likely. VOA’s tone and approach have changed noticeably in recent weeks, and we have distinct impression that guidelines previously in force have been ignored with increasing frequency.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770087–0960)