A VOA Snapshot - Part of the continuing coverage in this, VOA's 60th Anniversary Year
In the late 1930s, the United States was the only major power without an overseas short wave radio service. To right this balance, President Franklin Roosevelt announced the formation of the Foreign Information Service, FIS, in mid-1941.
On February 24, 1942, 79 days after American entry into World War II, the FIS made its first medium and long wave transmission to Europe. In it, Announcer William Harlan Hale announced, in German, a "voice from America."
In contrast to government stations in the Axis, Mr. Hale promised to bring the unvarnished truth, not propaganda, to listeners. "The news may be good. The news may be bad," he continued in that first broadcast, "we shall tell you the truth."
John Aulicino, one-time chief of the New York Programs Center, joined the VOA the next year, in 1943. He remembers the unusual balance VOA journalists had to strike in the Voice of America's early days.
"It was wartime," he said, "so there was a control center where scripts had to be brought and checked and monitored before being actually broadcast. On the other hand, from the beginning, we were guided by those words which are emblazoned in the minds of so many old-time VOA'ers, 'the news may be good or bad but we will bring you the truth.' And during the war, as much as possible with, of course, the security of our troops being considered fully - the truth was told of the defeats as well as the victories."
Then, as now, VOA broadcasts emanated from the U.S. government. Still, pains have always been taken to keep the promotion of government policy separate from news reporting. John Aulicino adds that, during his four decade tenure, competing reactions to government policy pronouncements were always broadcast along with news of the policies themselves.
"We did it for our own self-interest," he continued. "Because if we don't tell the truth, other people will tell the truth, and you lose your credibility so when you do tell the truth, they won't believe you!"
Sixty years and many challenges later, the firewall between the policy and news-writing departments at the Voice of America remains strong.
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