General Lucius D. Clay, Rtd. on Difference Between Radio Free Europe and Voice of America
by Ted Lipien
Because it is devoted to the single most important job in the world-to help keep World War III from happening. If 70,000,000 people in the six Iron Curtain countries continue to resist Soviet tyranny, the Kremlin is kept off balance in one of the most strategically sensitive areas in the world.
General Clay was the former U. S. Military Governor in Germany, and leader of the 1948 Berlin Airlift. Clay later served in various capacities as President Eisenhower’s advisor and traveled with President Kennedy to Berlin in 1961 when Kennedy made his famous Ich bin ein Berliner speech.
With initially secret support from the U.S. government and open support from Clay, Eisenhower and other well-known American political figures, Radio Free Europe became extremely successful and popular in East-Central Europe, quickly surpassing the Voice of America and other Western broadcasters in the number of listeners in most countries behind the Iron Curtain. RFE was much faster in providing local news from behind the Iron Curtain, it had more such news and commentaries, had more top talent, much better management, far more journalistic independence, more funding and more airtime than VOA. 1 Its programs were prepared almost exclusively by refugee journalists and were hard-hitting and more polemical than Voice of America broadcasts from the United States. The Voice of America operated at that time within the U.S. State Department.
Eventually, President Truman, who supported the establishment of Radio Free Europe, forced the Voice of America to reform and become stronger in countering Soviet propaganda, but VOA never achieved the level of domestic news specialization and popularity of Radio Free Europe among most East European audiences. 2 Many former Radio Free Europe journalists later worked for Voice of America foreign language services and in some cases for VOA’s English-language news service. They included Francis Ronalds, who later worked for VOA central English service in Washington, as did Marek Łatyński, who subsequently returned to RFE to become the director of RFE’s Polish Service. Following his journalistic career, Łatyński was Poland’s ambassador to Switzerland from 1991 to 1994.
VOA Polish Service broadcasters in Washington who earlier had worked for RFE included, among others, Marek Święcicki, Wacław Bniński, Feliks Broniecki, Irena Radwańska (Broni), Janusz Hewel, and Marek Walicki. These talented former RFE broadcasters greatly enriched VOA programming to Poland. Piotr Mroczyk, who in the early 1980s worked for the VOA Polish Service in Washington, was later the Polish Service director at RFE. Maciej Wierzyński worked at different times for RFE and VOA. Wierzyński succeeded me as the chief of VOA’s Polish Service. I was later appointed acting VOA director, but I also served briefly as RFE/RL President in December 2020-January 2021. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is now overseen by the federal U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the same agency which also oversees the Voice of America and a few other U.S. tax-funded international media outreach entities.
Before the establishment of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)–the predecessor of the U.S. Agency for Global Media–Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty enjoyed a high degree of programming independence from Washington. The CIA’s interference in programming was limited and diminished over the years. Its funding for Radio Free Europe was not a well kept secret and ended in 1972. Some former RFE executives admitted later that the deception about the origins of RFE’s budget was a mistake although at the time it was believed to be necessary to preserve the station’s considerable freedom to criticize communist governments in the Soviet Block without being directly linked to the U.S. government, as was the case with the Voice of America. Arch Puddington, deputy director of the New York Bureau of Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty from 1985 to 1993 wrote in his book Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, published in 2000, that “the public had been duped into believing that its contributions were responsible for ‘keeping hope alive’ behind the Iron Curtain, when in fact the overwhelming portion of RFE’s budget was provided, covertly, through federal funds. 3 Arch Puddington wrote in his book that Jan Now Jeziorański, the legendary and famously independent director of RFE’s Polish Service, recalled that “the process of formulating broadcast policy” was “very democratic” between “the exiled editors, the American policy advisors and, at yet another level, officials from the CIA and the State Department.” 4 At the Voice of America, through most of the Cold War, major programming directives came from the senior and mid-level management and were not discussed with foreign language services. I can confirm from my own experience that it was true at the Voice of America at least until the start of the Reagan administration, at which point foreign language services were given considerable programming freedom. Putting aside the funding controversy, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty made a major contribution to the fall of communist censorship and communism in East-Central Europe and in the Soviet Union, as did to a smaller degree the Voice of America.
In a one page ad placed in Ladies’ Home Journal in March 1954, one of many such ads commissioned by the Crusade for Freedom, General Lucius D. Clay answered nine questions about Radio Free Europe.
One of the questions was: What is the difference between Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America?
His answer was:
General Lucius D. Clay: The Voice of America is run and paid for by the Government. Radio Free Europe is operated as an independent American enterprise by a committee of private citizens. It is people talking to people–Poles telling the truth to Poles, Czechs and Slovaks telling the truth to Czechs and Slovaks, etc. It is not bound by diplomatic limitations. The Voice of America broadcasts to many countries and can only devote a limited amount of time each day to any one country. But Radio Free Europe’s “Voice of Free Czechoslovakia,” for example, broadcasts about 20 hours each day to Czechoslovakia alone.
- Only during the Reagan Administration years, the Voice of America Polish Service, which I led at that time, was able to catch up with Radio Free Europe in audience popularity in Poland. Before that time, for most of the Cold War, RFE’s audience reach in Poland was about four or five times greater than VOA’s audience numbers.↩
- Ted Lipien, “Truman’s ‘Campaign of Truth’ at Voice of America Part I: Countering Soviet Propaganda Abroad and at Home,” Cold War Radio Museum (blog), March 25, 2021, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/campaign-of-truth-at-voice-of-america-part-i/. ↩
- Arch Puddington, Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000), pp. 188-189. ↩
- Arch Puddington, Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000), p. 28. ↩