December 2, 2001
Radio Free Europe
“Beside yourself if radio’s gonna stay/Reason: it could polish up the grey/Beside defying media too fast/Instead of pushing palaces to fall/put that…before all/that this isn’t fortunate at all/Straight off the boat/Where to go? /Calling on in transit/Radio Free Europe” (Berry et al., 1983). These lyrics from “Radio Free Europe,” the first song on R.E.M.’s premiere album, Murmur, describe the controversial role of Radio Free Europe, an international radio broadcaster whose troubled history dates back to the early days of the Cold War. Radio Free Europe played a key role in Eastern Europe by broadcasting news and information to the people living under communist rule there. As the song says, there was a lot of controversy about whether the radio corporation should stay in operation, especially after it was made public that the private company was mostly funded by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). By examining Radio Free Europe’s original founding and purpose, its effectiveness in carrying out its purpose, the CIA scandal and its resolution, the difficulties of the years under Board for International Broadcasting (BIB) supervision, and its status today, one can begin to uncover the mystery and sort out the controversy surrounding this well publicized, but little understood, media voice.
In the early years of the Cold War between the United States and the USSR, Radio Free Europe was established to help the Western effort to undermine communism in Eastern Europe. In 1949, the National Committee for a Free Europe was incorporated to help democratic politicians from the communist-governed countries of Eastern Europe continue their activities against communism (Panfilov, 1981, pp. 100-101). Sig Mickelson, author of America’s other voice, writes that the motivation for the organization was two-fold. There was a charitable motive in wanting to help the democratic émigrés of the late 1940s by giving them a worthwhile cause in which to assist. The other motivation was “a desperately felt need in government circles for developing new sources of intelligence concerning communist intentions in Central and Western Europe and a better understanding of the methods that the Soviet Union was using to undermine democratic governments in the path of its westward expansion” (Mickelson, 1983, p. 2).
Officially, the National Committee for a Free Europe was registered as a private organization set up by political emigrants with the support of the American public (Panfilov, 1981, p. 101). The founders of this organization included some of the most influential people of the era: Dwight D. Eisenhower, soon to become U.S. president, and Henry Ford Jr. and Nelson Rockefeller, both multi-millionaire politicians (Panfilov, 1981, p. 99). A joint founder, the Crusade for Freedom, set up by Eisenhower, General Lucius Clay, and the American Legion, among others, was also involved (Panfilov, 1981, p. 100). While Mickelson contends that the National Committee for a Free Europe was a private American corporation, he also clearly indicates the U.S. government was involved as well. “An obscure and relatively minor intelligence group, the Office of Policy Coordination, which drew its budget from the CIA and its policy guidance from the Department of State…was charged with the responsibility of overseeing the novel experiment” (Mickelson, 1983, p. 2).
From the communist view expressed by Russian writer A. Panfilov, the committee was really organized by United States government agencies and “uses political émigrés from the Eastern European countries as tools, for the purpose of interfering in these countries’ internal affairs” (Panfilov, 1981, p. 101). While Mickelson, an American author, viewed the National Committee for a Free Europe as a positive endeavor to further democracy, Panfilov, a Russian writer, saw it as an instrument of government psychological propaganda.To read more, a subscription is needed: Click here to subscribe