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VOA Presented Objective Reports During Cold War - 2002-07-09

A VOA Snapshot - Part of VOA's 60th Anniversary Year Coverage.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 began a new period of U.S.-Soviet tension and renewed pressures on VOA to use its news broadcasts to criticize Soviet actions.

Barbara Cummins was the chief of VOA Russian language programs in the mid-1980s. She said, "The world was bipolar in that day. There was an ideological war. It was after all a Cold War, like or not."

She said accurate objective reporting, as required by the VOA Charter, proved to be more effective in swaying public opinion against the Soviet invasion than harsh propaganda would have been.

"Very frequently with new arrivals," she explained, "people who first came on board, they misunderstood what our mission was all about. Let's say [for example], when the Soviets were in Afghanistan, they'd write a story, frequently it was even a translation, and insert such things as 'the appalling behavior of the Soviet Army.' That was edited out. The listener will determine whether it was appalling or not appalling behavior."

Barbara Cummins noted that the VOA Charter also requires accurate reporting on the United States. During the '80s and earlier decades, she said, that included reporting on discrimination against blacks.

"We [the U.S.] were criticized for that [discrimination by the Soviet press]," she continued, "and we needed to talk about that because it [racial prejudice] was wrong. So covering America involved covering the negatives as well as the positive aspects. This is how you earn the trust of your audience."

In addition, many VOA language services, including Russian, broadcast excerpts from U.S. and world newspaper editorials, which are often critical of U.S. policy. At VOA, such reporting is not only allowed, it is required, in Russian and all our languages.

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