A Brief History of U.S. International
Radio Broadcasting and War:
From the Voice of America
to Radio Tikrit

Capt. David Westover, USAF
Strategic Public Relations Management: International Perspective
Dr. Juan-Carlos Molleda
April 22, 2003

(Reprinted with the author's permission)

Introduction and overview

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the United States has entered a new era which perpetuates the vital need for effective international broadcasting to explain its policies, values and culture to the rest of the world.

While the global phenomenon of international broadcasting has a long and rich history that dates back to 1915, it remains to be a significant communication strategy used by more than 100 countries in multiple regions around the world today.

In this analysis, I will provide a chronological review of the history of international radio broadcasting as a communication strategy used by various countries up until World War II. I will then provide an historical review of the U.S. government’s use of international radio broadcasting, covering both its diplomatic and military uses throughout several major conflicts ranging from World War II through the current war in Iraq.

I will conclude with a brief analysis of the current situation today and discuss the continued role of international radio broadcasting in U.S. foreign policy and public diplomacy efforts.


Origins of International Radio Broadcasting

There are varied historical accounts describing the early beginnings of international broadcasting. Wasburn (1992) suggested that Germany may have been the first country to use international radio broadcasting as early as 1915, when it established a regular radio news service that was accepted and used by multiple neutral countries in the region.

Bumpus & Skelt (1984) supported the claim that these German broadcasts appeared to be "widely heard and used by the press" (p.7). In addition, these scholars also pointed to Russia’s initial use of international radio broadcasting dating back to 1917 in its effort to "explain the facts behind the revolution" to the rest of the world. However, on both accounts, these early broadcasts were Morse code transmissions understood only by a relatively few.

These authors both highlight Vladimir Lenin’s vision that radio had the potential to not only to reach the domestic audience in Russia, but also for its vast international possibilities and its "revolutionary value." Lenin urged his successor Joseph Stalin to further radio research when he wrote: "I think from the standpoint of propaganda and agitation, especially for those that are illiterate, it is absolutely necessary for us to carry out this plan" (Bumpus & Skelt, 1984, p.7)

"The Russians were the first to establish a government-sponsored, continuous, and extensive system of radio broadcasting, which revealed that such far-reaching systems were developed as a means of attaining significant political and economic goals" (Wasburn, 1992, p.1).

According to Wood (1992), it was the year 1927 that marked the birth of propaganda. Great Britain joined Russia and Germany, when it also discovered the use of radio waves as the "perfect medium for communicating with its far-flung colonies in the eastern and western hemispheres of the world" (p. 36).

Within the next few years, the Netherlands also began regular transmissions in Dutch to the East Indies, while France started French broadcasts to its colonies. By 1932, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Dutch colonial services developed into "major contemporary international broadcast organizations" (Wasburn, 1992, p.5).

Meanwhile in the United States, it was commercial companies that pursued to further the reach of radio broadcasting. KDKA of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was the first radio station to transmit programs for entertainment, first to broadcast news to the public and was first to have a license to do so (Wood, 1992).

American companies such as Westinghouse and General Electric set up radio stations primarily to promote their consumer products. These companies were soon followed by large domestic broadcasting companies such as National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), while the U.S. government "steered well clear of any involvement in international broadcasting" (Bumpus & Skelt, 1984, p.16).

Wood (1992) points out a dramatic turning point in the history of international broadcasting that took place in October 1935. Edward R. Murrow, a journalist and news broadcaster for CBS, attempted to cover a two-segment debate between Great Britain and Italy regarding Benito Mussolini’s invasion into Ethiopia, a land where the British had strong vested interests. One the first night, CBS successfully transmitted the British perspective across the Atlantic Ocean via short wave radio transmitters, which proposed sanctions against the Italians.

However, the following night just as the Italian delegation was set to be aired in America, Murrow was informed that the short-wave link through London, controlled by the British Post Office refused permission for the broadcast and had pulled the plug on the circuit. This made front page headline, ‘51 nations vote for sanctions against Italy, Britain cuts off broadcast by Italians’. "International broadcasting and anti-broadcasting had arrived as a weapon of considerable effect for influencing the minds of listeners," (Wood, 1992, p.39).

When Adolph Hitler became the Chancellor of the National Socialist Government in Germany, he embraced the use of broadcasting as the "chief instrument of political propaganda" and reorganized its primarily domestic broadcasting arrangements to include overseas transmissions. By the end of 1935, Germany had successfully transmitted regular programs to Asia, Africa, South America and North America in German, English, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch (Bumpus & Skelt, 1984).


World War II: U.S. Government enters International Broadcasting

Wasburn (1992) claimed that much of the current character of international radio stems from what it became during World War II.

Concerned with the successes of German propaganda, the U.S. government under the Roosevelt Administration began first looking into international broadcasting in 1940 (Tyson, 1983). When the Japanese bombed Pear Harbor on December 7, 1941, the U.S. entered World War II, clearly marking the shift from the commercial use of broadcast media, only as means of making money, to the U.S. State Department’s decision to initiate a strong international voice on the airwaves (Wood, 1992).

Although delayed by various political reasons and strong opposition from the commercial radio industry and the general public, the U.S. was the last world power to participate in international radio broadcasts (Wasburn, 1992). In 1942, the Office of War Information was established and charged with several responsibilities including setting up a broadcasting division.

Contrary to the German propaganda techniques of falsehood and terror, U.S. international broadcasts were founded on truthful information and "on a much higher moral plain than the psychological radio war that was going on in Europe" (Wood, 1992, p.51). The policy was established from the very first words of its initial broadcast: "This is a voice speaking to you from America…we will speak to you about America and the war…the news may be good or bad…we shall tell you the truth" (VOA Information Book,1982 in Bumpus & Skelt,1984, p.40).

While in theory this new policy of "truth only" was refreshing, in reality it was difficult to adhere to during the early defeats of the war; however the U.S. broadcasts earned their long-awaited credibility when the "Voice of America," the official name that developed based on the initial broadcast, began to report allied victories (Tyson, 1983).

During the course of the war, the VOA had to adapt to meet the psychological challenges presented by enemy broadcasts. In particular, the Japanese specifically targeted the American soldier by broadcasting "radio warfare, working primarily to divide America from its allies in Asia and the Pacific, to stimulate war-weariness, nostalgia, and a pessimistic view of the war" (Wasburn, 1992, p.20).

The Japanese cleverly broadcasted "high quality, light entertainment recorded by America’s top bands, introduced by the sexually charged voices of female announcers" with its primary motive of making the average U.S. soldier "tired of war and killing." As a result, "thousands of GIs fell in love with a voice (one popularly identified as "Tokyo Rose") from which they created in their minds -- a picture of their loved ones" (Wood, 1992, p.51). The follow excerpt was from one of these broadcasts: "How’d you like to go to the corner drug store tonight, and get an ice cream soda? I wonder who your wives and girl friends are out with tonight. Maybe with a war plant worker making big money while you are out here fighting and knowing you can’t succeed" (Tokyo Radio, 1943 as quoted by Ryo,1983 in Wasburn,1992).

In response, the U.S. Office of War Information "enlisted the aid of the public relations industry and Hollywood," (p.51) signing up celebrities and began to broadcast top-class entertainment in the Pacific Islands as well as in the other theaters of war in the Middle East and Europe.

During the war, the VOA grew exponentially, employing more than 3,000 people and broadcasting more than 165 hours a day in over 40 languages – "beyond any doubt, international broadcasting had established itself as an arm of American wartime operations" (Tyson, 1983, p.6). The arrival of the VOA marked the beginning of an era in which the U.S. government would employ international radio broadcasting continuously, even to the present day.


Post-War Era turns to the Cold War

After the war, the U.S. government debated whether it should continue international radio broadcasting. As a result, VOA broadcasts were severely limited and for nearly five years, the fate of VOA remained unknown.

A key argument in favor of keeping an operational overseas radio organization was presented from a technical perspective. If terminated, it would be difficult to restore transmission facilities and radio band assignments if it were later deemed necessary to do so (Tyson, 1983). But the overriding factor in sustaining the VOA, pointed to several steps taken by the Communist government of the Soviet Union which "made it increasing clear that it did not share the American vision of postwar collaboration" (p.11). These steps included Moscow establishing the Communist Information Agency in Eastern Europe, which declared its purpose "to unite communist states in the forthcoming struggle against Anglo-American Imperialism" (p.12).

In February 1947, the VOA began its first, rather limited, broadcasts into the Soviet Union (Tyson, 1983). By now it was clear that communism and capitalism were in direct confrontation. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman’s Marshall Plan, which offered aid to any country willing to renounce communism, marked the first phase of the Cold War (Wood, 1992). This same year, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that fostered a permanent role for the VOA in the information activity of the State Department (Bumpus & Skelt, 1984).

As tensions continued to mount between the Soviet Union and the West, a combination of political events, including the Berlin Blockade and the communist take over of Czechoslovakia, prompted the U.S. government to support additional broadcasting efforts (Wasburn, 1992).

In 1950, Radio Free Europe (RFE) emerged in Munich, and began broadcasting into the Eastern European countries of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Albania (Tyson, 1983). Unlike the VOA, the U.S. State Department did not want the government to "be explicitly identified with the effort, (therefore) the administration decided to have the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provide confidential funds and policy control" (p.20). The following year, a similar effort named Radio Liberation, later shortened to Radio Liberty (RL), was launched to broadcast to the people of the Soviet Union.

One of the key attributes to the successes of RFE and RL was the cooperation between the Americans in charge of programming and the foreign émigrés who fled their communist controlled countries. Both stations employed the abilities of a great number of these émigrés for commentaries and discussions, utilizing their expertise in history, the arts and religion (Tyson, 1983). From the beginning of their existence, RFE and RL were "in the thick of the Cold War" and "considered key elements in a broad counteroffensive that brought together all available resources" (p. 26).

Meanwhile, the VOA gained strength and the support of the U.S. government. In July 1950, the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information stated in its report to President Truman and Congress that, "the propaganda effort of the USSR, now bordering on open psychological warfare, is a major threat to U.S. foreign policy objectives…a psychological offensive by the U.S. based on truth is essential if the U.S. is to succeed" (Tyson, 1983, p. 26).

As a result, the VOA budget doubled and named Foy Kohler, a Foreign Service officer with nearly 20 years experience and the reputation as one of the country’s leading experts on the Soviet Union. At the end of 1950, the following excerpt from a speech by Kohler summed up the revised objectives of the VOA:

"The attempt of Soviet propaganda to convince the world that the U.S. is a warmongering, power-hungry nation, determined to dominate all other nations, has reached a point where it can only be described as aggressive psychological warfare and a major threat to foreign policy objectives of the U.S….the role of the Voice of America in this effort is an important one because of the ability of radio to surmount the man-made barriers of censorship and suppression, and speak directly to the people" (Tyson, 1983, p.28)


1950s bring about new administration, USIA, continued conflict

Under the direction of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, all information activities including international broadcasting were transferred from the U.S. State Department to the newly formed U.S. Information Agency. As part of this shift, broadcasting resources became leaner and budgets grew smaller, all in the name of improved efficiency (Tyson, 1983).

It was also during this time that the U.S. military first directly engaged with communist forces in the Korean Conflict. However, as Wood (1992) described it, "in the Cold War there was a reversal of roles: the power radio transmitter became the major weapon of war, and the real weapons of war were kept on a leash" (p.106). Each side avoided attacking targets that could have let to an escalation of the war. In addition, both sides limited the weapons it used and the territory in which it would fight. Nevertheless, South Korean and American troops still suffered more than 580,000 casualties, while North Korean and Chinese troops totaled more than 1.5 million (Wasburn, 1992).

A few years later, conflict erupted in Eastern Europe which may have been the result of RFE’s overly "enthusiast and optimistic tone" about a change brewing in the air. In February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union’s newly assumed leader, presented a speech to the Communist Party Congress that denounced many of the ideologies of Stalin. RFE and RL rebroadcast the speech to Eastern Europe which directly led to uprisings in Poland and Hungary. These revolts demanded the lifting of the repressive measures formerly used by Stalin (Tyson, 1983).

The Poles successfully avoided a direct military conflict, however, the streets of Budapest were seized by more than 200,000 Soviet troops and 2,500 tanks which resulted in the death, imprisonment and fleeing of several hundred thousand Hungarians (Wasburn, 1992).


1960s: JFK, Edward R. Murrow, Cuba and Vietnam

When John F. Kennedy became President, he hired Edward R. Murrow as the newest director of the U.S. Information Agency. Murrow, widely known for his acumen and strong communication skills, not only elevated international broadcasting to a higher priority in U.S. foreign policy, but he also concentrated on persuasion and foreign public opinion to influence other nations (Tyson, 1983).

During Kennedy’s short stint in the White House, VOA, RFE and RL each received additional financial support and broadened the scope of their responsibilities. It was Murrow’s influence that led to one of the expanded goals of RFE (Tyson, 1983):

"To persuade its audiences that the communist system which rules them is not immune to change, that its promised world victory will not take place…on the contrary, they as individuals, have a vital and peaceful part to play in accelerating the defeat of the world communist movement (p.50)."

In the early 1960s, the rise of Cuban leader Fidel Castro brought communism to the door-step of America. In response, Kennedy greatly boosted the VOA’s Spanish-language broadcasts to counter anti-American sentiment. However in 1961, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion was not only an embarrassing foreign policy defeat for the U.S., but it damaged the credibility of VOA and Radio Swan, a CIA-financed clandestine station whose sole purpose was to discredit the Castro government (Wasburn, 1992).

A year later, the Cuban Missile Crisis once again pitted the U.S. against the Soviet Union. The Kennedy Administration prompted the VOA to patch together a network of commercial AM stations that flooded the Cuban airwaves. In addition, VOA with the help of RFE, made the U.S. position clearly known throughout the world (Wasburn, 1992).

After the crisis ended, the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed a treaty limiting the testing of nuclear weapons, established a dialogue between the White House and the Kremlin, and extended an agreement for educational, scientific, and cultural exchanges. It appeared that Cold War tensions were somewhat easing (Wasburn, 1992).

However, that was not the case as the Vietnam conflict escalated into a full-fledged war. In 1965, the U.S. began sending combat troops into the region and within three years, that number reached half a million (Tyson, 1983).

While much of the historical reflection on Vietnam focuses on U.S. domestic media coverage of the war, the VOA also faced a daunting challenge of maintaining its organizational integrity. John Daly, a former professional broadcaster who was named Director of VOA, struggled with the "battle over policy versus objectivity, as the situation began to polarize the nation" (p.55). The battle enraged in Congress as Rep. Charles Joelson (D-NJ), voiced the opinion of several government officials: "The Voice of America is to promulgate our government policy…if that policy is wrong, we ought to change it here, not broadcast statements opposing that policy" (Wasburn, 1992, p.45). In the end, these events led the VOA to adopt a more cautious broadcasting policy, especially towards the end of the war.


U.S. international broadcasting in the 1970s and 80s:

The overall output of the VOA, RFE and RL, which averaged approximately 2000 hours per week, remained relatively constant from 1970 to the early 1980s. However, their target audiences greatly expanding to reach countries in Africa, India and those formerly under the Soviet bloc (Bumpus & Skelt,1984).

In 1973, the U.S. government established the Board for International Broadcasting (BIB), which now openly financed RFE and RL through annual Congressional appropriations. Prior to the BIB, both organizations were secretly funded by the CIA (Tyson, 1983).

The BIB also brought a change in the organizational structure of RFE and RL. According to an interview with Malcom S. Forbes, the agency director from 1985 to 1993, "the BIB is an independent federal agency, which provides a firewall for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty journalists. If there are complaints about broadcasting, they get thrown to us…(however) at VOA, they’re always getting pressure from the State Department to temper coverage…VOA doesn’t have that effective firewall" (Raghavan, Johnson and Bahrenburg,1993).

As President Jimmy Carter took office in 1977, he instilled a shift towards building more of a dialogue with the communist countries. In 1978, Carter symbolically changed the name of the U.S. Information Agency to the U.S. International Communication Agency and removed the plaque on the headquarters building that once read, "Telling America’s Story," placing new emphasis on two-way communication rather than one one-way persuasion (Tyson, 1983).

While the BIB, VOA, RFE and RL followed Carter’s new guidelines of implementing a "two-way" dialogue, the communist countries never fully agreed to such terms, and as a result, stepped up its propaganda and jamming efforts against RFE, RL and VOA (Tyson, 1983). Continued conflict in Iran, Afghanistan and in Africa, as well as anti-American rhetoric in the Soviet Union, proved that détente was not the best approach for U.S. foreign policy (Tyson, 1983).

In January 1981, President Ronald Reagan took office and immediately pledged the need for "a stronger policy against communist ideology and Soviet aggressiveness" (p. 75). Charles Wick and Frank Shakespeare, the newly appointed directors of the USICA and the BIB, respectively, met resistance from long standing VOA, RFE and RL management who clung to the Johnson administration’s policy of "informing only…with little effort at persuasion" (p.77).

In a 1984 speech, Reagan criticized previous administrations’ support of international broadcasting:

"Despite problems of antiquated equipment and Soviet jamming, the Voice of America has extended the message of truth around the world. Were it not for years of neglect that voice could be heard more clearly and that’s why our administration has made the same kind of commitment to modernize the Voice of America that Kennedy brought to the space program" (Wood, 2000, p.70).

During his eight years in office, Reagan directed the global modernization of U.S. international broadcasting, which included many projects that were eventually completed after his term in the White House. The impact of Reagan’s support for U.S. international broadcasting is difficult to quantify, however as Wood (2000) explained:

"Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were instruments of the Cold War that began in 1948. No one thought this war would go on for 40 years and when the end came it was sudden and unexpected, but most important of all, it was nearly bloodless. It was a war fought with words, not bullets; it was paid for by American taxpayers…and later described in Washington in December 1991, as one of the best investments ever made by the U.S. government."

Puddington (2000) also attempts to quantify the value of RFE and RL when he said:

"It is unfortunate the most of the histories of the Cold War deal with RFE and RL as footnotes, or as CIA-manipulated propaganda instruments. For in fact the radio proved one of the most successful institutions of America’s Cold War effort, and made and important contribution to the peaceful nature of communism’s demise. Their success can be measured by the gratitude expressed by millions of listeners, for whom the radios often served as a voice of hope and sanity in an often hopeless and insane world (p.313)."


1990s – Cold War followed by conflict in the Gulf and the Balkans

When the Cold War ended in 1989, the peace would only last a short while before Saddam Hussein led an Iraqi invasion into neighboring Kuwait. This aggression prompted an urgent need for the U.S. government to make rapid changes in their international broadcasts (Wood, 2000).

On Thanksgiving Day 1990, the U.S. utilized its Department of Defense resources and began broadcasting the VOA into Kuwait via Volant Solo, the U.S. Air Force’s modified EC-130 Special Operations aircraft which provides airborne "surge broadcasting" capability. Volant Solo would later be later renamed Commando Solo (Rouse, 2003).

According to Rouse (2003), these radio broadcasts played a large part of the psychological operations (psyops) that helped "to prepare the battlefield by offering the Iraqi soldiers food, bedding and medical care if they surrendered and reminded them of the consequences if they did not." According to Makelainen (2003), the purpose of psyops is "to induce or reinforce attitudes and behaviors favorable to (US) objectives by conducting planned operations to convey selected information to various audiences to influence their emotions, motives, reasoning and ultimately, the behavior of organizations, groups and individuals."

In January 1991, the U.S. adopted the Voice of the Gulf, which began non-stop radio broadcasts from both land-based transmitters in Saudi Arabia as well as Commando Solo aircraft. These broadcasts would last until April 1 when coalition forces expelled Iraqi forces and Kuwait was liberated. The text of a February 1991 broadcast went as follows: "Your only safety is across the Saudi Arabian border. That is where the bombing and the starvation stop. The Joint Forces offer you asylum. They offer you a warm bed, medical attention and three filling meals a day. Embrace your Arab brothers and share in their peace" (ClandestineRadio.com, 2003).

These radio broadcasts combined with the psyops leaflet and loudspeaker broadcast programs were major motivating factors to the estimated 100,000 soldiers who surrendered or deserted by the war's end (Rouse, 2003).

Although radio broadcasting played a key role in the U.S. success during the Gulf War, a major organizational change to U.S. international broadcasting took place two years later. U.S. Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.), a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited the Balkans in 1993 to investigate the grave situation first hand and to determine ways to help end the genocide taking place in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Kaufman, 2002). Biden learned how Slobodan Milosevic used state-owned radio and television to inflame the Serbian people by using "daily broadcasts of manufactured atrocities of the Bosnian Muslims" (p.2). After witnessing the power of Milosevic’s propaganda, Biden’s response was that "if the U.S. is to deal with these problems, we have to move beyond military, political and economic weapons…we must learn how to fight the media war."

The following year, under the newly approved Biden-led legislation, the U.S. International Broadcasting Act of 1994 consolidated all international broadcasting resources and created the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). This bi-partisan board would be composed of eight private citizens—four Democrats and four Republicans—and the director of the USIA (Kaufman, 2002). The BBG later became an independent federal agency in 1999.

As the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict continued to spread throughout the Balkan region, the U.S. energized the VOA and RFE/RL to adopt a wide range of newly developed, high-tech tactics in addition to their conventional radio broadcasts. With the technology boom of the mid-1990s, these tactics included Internet-based transmissions, fax and e-mail publications. In addition, RFE/RL broadcasted via Commando Solo, which provided the much needed "surge broadcasting" capability into the region. With the help of neighboring nations, the U.S. had created a "ring around Serbia" in which U.S. international broadcasting greatly contributed to the fall of Milosevic in October 2000 (Kaufman, 2002).

Kaufman claimed that "this extraordinary outcome was achieved because all U.S. international broadcasting had been consolidated under the single authority of the BBG…which facilitated coordination with the Departments of State and Defense and enabled quicker decisions" (p.5).


9/11 and the War on Terrorism

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 sent a shock through the world that resonated for days and weeks and even the years to come. According to an editorial in the Christian Science Monitor (2003, March 6) "public diplomacy was a high priority during the Cold War, it afterward fell into eclipse – until the events of September 11, 2001." The piece went on to say that "since then the question, ‘why do they hate us?’ inspired new efforts to explain American values, especially to those cultures from which the terrorists emerged."

It was as if the events of 9/11 both crystallized and codified a number of Islamic extremist terrorist acts devised by mastermind Osama Bin Laden. These included the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, the 1999 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.

When U.S. president George W. Bush declared a "War on Terrorism" on September 20, 2001, with it came "a consensus that U.S. public diplomacy requires a commitment to new foreign policy thinking…and the need to make clear why the U.S. is fighting this war and why supporting it is in the interest of others, as well as Americans" (Peterson, 2002, pg. 74).

An essential part of that commitment is, without a doubt, international broadcasting. Within weeks of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, U.S. Commando Solo aircraft took over the airwaves in Afghanistan, with radio broadcasts that included the following text: "On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of people were killed en masse in the United States…among them was a 2-year-old girl, barely able to stand or dress herself. Did she deserve to die?" The broadcast went on to further explain that the attacks in New York and the Pentagon were on innocent people – an act forbidden by the Muslim Koran (Garamone, 2001).

While there have been considerable increases in U.S. government allocations to improve and expand international broadcasting, wide criticism abounded even before the Bush administration launched "Operation Iraqi Freedom." For example, Minow (2002) pointed out in a speech:

"In November 2002, Congress finally set aside $30 million to launch a new Middle East radio network (which includes funding Radio Free Afghanistan and Radio Sawa). These efforts are late and in my view, too timid. They are tactical, not strategic. They are smart, not visionary. The cost of putting Radio Free Afghanistan on the air and underwriting its annual budget, for example, is less than even one Comanche helicopter. We have many hundreds of helicopters, which we need to destroy tyranny, but they are insufficient to secure freedom" (p.5).

In the final days preceding the U.S. war with Iraq, an interesting phenomenon was beginning to take place. Throughout the extensive international media coverage of the impending threat to Saddam Hussein’s regime, there were for the first time, widespread accounts of the U.S. government’s use of clandestine radio broadcasting and military psyops. It was widely reported in the international media that both of these tactics commenced well before the first air strikes were ordered on March 19.

In an article published February 24, Makelainen (2003) explained how "for most of the Iraqi people, radio is the only window to the outside world…no wonder that the Iraqi audience is currently targeted by a total of seven coalition-supported radio services, four Kurdish stations and five other (Iraqi) opposition stations" in comparison to one Iraqi government-owned and controlled station.

These broadcast operations range from Radio Tikrit, the latest addition in U.S. sponsored clandestine stations, which "initially pretended to be a pro-Saddam station, but in just two weeks time, it radically changed the tone of its broadcasts, sharply criticizing the Saddam regime and urging Iraqi soldiers to defect;" to Radiyo al-Ma’ulumat (Information Radio), a U.S. propaganda operation also broadcasting anti-Saddam messages, part of which programming originates from EC-130 Commando Solo aircraft. Also, Radio Free Iraq, an Arabic-language service that is beamed into Iraq via shortwave facilities in several countries from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty headquarters in Prague, Czechoslovakia (Makelainen, 2003).

In addition to the openness regarding clandestine radio broadcasts and military psychological operations, the Bush administration and the Pentagon also agreed to an unprecedented policy of "embedding media" with the frontline combat forces. According to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the main objective of initiating the embedding policy was "we need to tell the factual story – good or bad – before others seed the media with disinformation and distortions, as they most certainly will continue to do so" (Department of Defense, 2003).


Kaufman (2002) accurately summarized the current situation regarding U.S. foreign policy when he said, "In the twenty-first century, the U.S. president will continue to face many kinds of international problems. If events at the end of the twentieth century are any indicator, ethnic, religious, racial, and regional conflicts will cause them." He went on to say that "military, economic, or diplomatic tools will be insufficient to prevent or solve them. Democracy, freedom, and a civil society require constant advocacy…and International broadcasting must return to the front page of the U.S. foreign policy agenda" (p.125).

In an editorial published more than a decade ago in The Economist (1992) it open with a statement that "more than 100 governments now broadcast their messages abroad...with their purpose to influence opinion in the interest – political, cultural or religious – of whoever is paying their bills."

In a world that has since witnessed terrorism first hand via the live television broadcasts of the tragic attacks of Sept. 11th, followed by the ensuing fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and more recently the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian regime, the U.S. still faces a huge public diplomacy, or should I say, an international public relations challenge. As we have seen throughout history since World War I, the battle to win the hearts and minds has been the greatest struggle in human conflict.

As this historical review has indicated, international broadcasting has played a central role in U.S. foreign policy and has been credited for its indispensable role in U.S. victories including World War II, the Cold War, the Gulf War, the Kosovo Conflict and by all latest indications, the U.S. war to liberate Iraq. As Malcom S. Forbes succinctly said in an interview (Raghavan, et.al, 1993), "there is no more effective and cheaper means of influencing events in other countries on a daily basis than radio broadcasting…it reaches millions of people."

To add to the equation, when the U.S. government decided to cut back on its broadcasting and other foreign policy resources after the Cold War, America paid a price. Minow (2002) so profoundly stated that since "many of the resources that had been given to explaining ourselves and our values to the world were eliminated, in the Middle East, particularly, American broadcasting is not even a whisper." Later in the same speech Minow went on to say, "I never dreamed that the ideas of millions of people receive everyday would come from Al Jazeera (p.3).

An interesting perspective presented by the Washington Post’s Robert Satloff (2003, April 4), is that the Bush administration’s direct response to Al Jazeera -- a proposal to create the Middle East Television Network (METN) -- has the potential to "be one of this country’s most ill-conceived and wasteful experiments ever in public diplomacy." Satloff’s reasoning is simple. "METN will fail for the same reason that Radio Sawa appears to have succeeded. Whereas the Middle East radio market is tightly controlled by local regimes, with very few transnational options available, the regional television market is overflowing with choice." He says that there is no way that METN can compete with Al-Jazeera and other Arabic satellite news channels’ "lurid sensationalism and no-holds-barred debates…(where) viewers tune in to see graphic details of the bloody side of Israeli retaliation to Palestinian terrorism."

Minow (2002) concluded his speech with the following thought, "whatever one thinks of Al Jazeera, it teaches an important lesson: the global marketplace of news and information is no longer dominated by the United States" (p.3).

While this may be true however; I feel that the Bush administration was well aware of the global impact of the Al Jazeera effect. This was demonstrated by its carefully formulated policies we have recently witnessed during the U.S. led coalition defeat of Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian regime.

The Bush administration’s openness in regards to international broadcasting, military psychological operations and, most importantly, embedding international media on the battlefield have paid off tremendously. While it comes as no surprise, there is an uncanny similarity in the way these new policies adhere to a resoundingly familiar charter: we (and the media) will speak to you about America and the war…the news may be good or bad…we (and the media) shall tell you the truth.

While it has been more than sixty years since the Voice of America adopted its charter, broadcasting the truth has and will continue to prevail. As we have seen throughout this historical analysis, the U.S. president and his administration directly wield the power to determine and shape foreign policy. It is even more interesting to see that throughout U.S. history, the challenge has remained relatively the same -- to overcome misinformation, propaganda and lies about American freedom and democracy.

There has never been a time in U.S. history, when the importance of effective international broadcasting has been greater than it is today.


Bumpus, B. & Skelt, B. (1984). Seventy years of international broadcasting. Paris: Unesco.

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