Cold War Propaganda in the Third World

Cold War Propaganda in the Third World

Another major battle for the hearts and minds of people during the Cold War was fought in the Third World, where countries were emerging from centuries of subjugation under European colonial powers. The Soviet Union had recognized that, since the nature of the anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa was largely anti-Western, the political situation was ripe for promoting communism. The West, on the other hand, was interested in continuing to control raw materials and develop potential markets for Western products. Radio was seen as a crucial medium, given the low levels of literacy among most of the population of the developing countries. In addition, the nascent media in the newly independent countries in Asia and Africa were almost always state-controlled and thus less able to compete with foreign media, with their higher credibility and technological superiority.
The Middle East was a particular target for Western broadcasters, given its geo-strategic importance as the source of the world’s largest supply of oil. It is no coincidence that the Arabic Service, created in 1938, was the first foreign-language section of the BBC’s Empire Service, to be followed by the Persian service in 1940. The French, British and American broadcasters dominated the airwaves in the Arab world, while the Arabic service of Kol Israel (the Voice of Israel) also played a key propaganda role in the Middle East. Western support for the conservative Arab countries and the feudal order they perpetuated was also reflected in the treatment of Arab radical nationalism in Western broadcasting.
The British Government used a Cyprus-based British commercial broadcaster Sharq-al Adna to broadcast ‘Voice of Britain’ anti-Egyptian propaganda, however, ‘with little effect’ (Walker, 1992: 75). To counter this, Egyptian President Gamaal Nasser used the radio to promote the idea of pan-Arabism. The Cairo-based ‘Voice of the Arabs,’ was an international service, which in the 1950s and 1960s became the ‘pulpit of revolution’, notably in the leftist revolution in Iraq in 1958.
Pan-Arab sentiment also helped the Palestinian ‘liberation radios’ which regularly and often clandestinely broadcast from PLO offices in Cairo, Beirut, Algiers, Baghdad and Tripoli, moving position to avoid Israeli attacks. These radios played an important role in keeping the Palestinian struggle alive. In Algeria the Voice of Algeria, the radio station of the Front National de Liberation (FNL) played an important role in the national war of liberation against the French colonial authorities. In the words of Frantz Fanon, the radio ‘created out of nothing, brought the nation to life and endowed every citizen with a new status, telling him so explicitly’ (Fanon, 1970: 80, italics in the original).
In Asia, in addition to direct broadcasts from the USA, VOA operated from Japan, Thailand (where the Voice of Free Asia was part of VOA) and Sri Lanka. Following the Chinese revolution in 1949, US priority was to stop the expansion of communism into other parts of Asia. In 1951, the CIA funded the Manila-based Radio Free Asia, notable for its anti-communist stridency. It was later replaced by Radio of Free Asia which continued until 1966 (Taylor, 1997: 43).
During the Vietnam War, US propaganda reached new heights (Chandler, 1981; Hallin, 1986). The Joint US Public Office became the delegated authority for all propaganda activities, the chief aims of which were to undermine the support for communists and to keep the support of the South Vietnamese. These messages were conveyed mainly through dropping leaflets and broadcasting from low flying aircraft. It is estimated that during the seven years it operated in Vietnam, the USIA, supported by the armed forces, dropped nearly 50 billion leaflets – nearly ‘1,500 for every person in both parts of the country’ (Chandler, 1981: 3). Radio played a crucial role in the psychological warfare. The CIA also ran Voice of the Patriotic Militiamen’s Front in South Vietnam and two anti-Sukarno operations in Indonesia – Voice of Free Indonesia and Radio Sulawesi.
In Latin America, an area that the USA has traditionally regarded as its sphere of influence, US media propaganda has been intense, especially since the communist revolution in Cuba in 1959 led by Fidel Castro. During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, President John Kennedy’launched a virulent anti-Castro propaganda campaign with his Alianza para el Progreso programme, in what was, in the words of the former Director of VOA, George Allen, one of ‘the largest concentrations of propaganda effort unleashed against an individual since Stalin tried to purge Tito in 1948’ (quoted in Hale, 1975: 101). Unable to dislodge Castro from power and concerned that his success might promote anti-US sentiments in other parts of Latin America, the US Government resorted to using propaganda, notably with the introduction in 1983 of Radio Marti and later, in 1990, of TV Marti, which Cuba considered an hostile act, violating its sovereignty (Alexandre, 1993).
Given its limited geo-strategic importance in international relations Africa remained a low priority area for Cold War propaganda. However, as large areas of the continent were parts of the British Empire, the BBC had been broadcasting to Africa since 1940. In later years, the main broadcasting languages were English, French, Hausa, Portuguese and Swahili.
In the 1970s, VOA broadcast to Africa in English, French and Swahili, primarily to what were known locally as ‘wa-benzi’ (Mercedes-Benz owners, the African elite). Though Radio Moscow broadcast in several African languages – usually a translation of anti-imperialist material – its effectiveness was limited given the lack of communication infrastructure in many African countries. The Soviet Union invested in transmitters and training courses in the Cameroon while the Chinese supported broadcasting in Zambia and Tanzania. Under the socialist government of President Julius Nyerere, Radio Tanzania became the nerve centre of liberation movements in southern Africa and played an important role in the anti-apartheid struggle. However, socialist radio stations were no match for the powerful transmitters of Western broadcasters, such as those for BBC from Ascension Island and for VOA from Monrovia.
Broadcast propaganda was also used in areas where the Cold War was often very hot, such as Angola, where US and South Africa-backed UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebels used their own radio station – The Voice of the Resistance of the Black Cockerel – which began broadcasting from South Africa in 1979 and was installed in Angola under the CIA’s covert aid programme (Windrich, 1992).
Although developing countries were initially receptive to the Soviet message of freedom from colonialism, in the 1950s and 1960s, the economic power of the West and the dependency on colonial ties, coupled with the increasing influence of modernizing elites, meant that attraction for communism was waning. As major developing countries, such as India, Indonesia and Egypt, opted for Non-Alignment – a movement founded in 1961 among developing countries which claimed to eschew Cold War bloc politics, joining neither Western nor Eastern alliance – a new perspective on international communication began to emerge. Looking beyond the Cold War bipolarity, the Non-Aligned countries demanded that international communication issues be seen in terms of North-South rather than East-West categories.

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The BBC’s dependence on the British Government

In contrast to US state propaganda, the BBC’s External Services prided themselves on presenting a mature, balanced view, winning by argument, rather than hammering home a point, in the best tradition of British understatement. This proclaimed policy of ‘balance’ gave the BBC more international credibility than any other broadcasting organization in the world. The BBC’s dependence on the British Government was evident, since its budget was controlled by the Treasury through grant-in-aid from the Foreign and Colonial Office (now called the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), which could also decide which languages were used for programmes and for how long they were broadcast to each audience. For example, during the Berlin blockade of 1948-49 almost the entire output of the BBC external services was directed to Eastern bloc countries. In addition, the government exerted indirect influence on the BBC since the relay stations and overseas transmitters were negotiated through or owned by the Diplomatic Wireless Service. What distinguished the BBC was its capacity to criticize its own government, however indirectly.
The ‘special relationship’ that characterized US/UK ties during the Cold War years also was in evidence in the realm of international broadcasting. With the establishment of its Russian language unit in 1946, the BBC World Service played a key part in the Cold War through its strategically located global network of relay stations. These included: stations in the Ascension Island and in Antigua (where it shared transmitters and relay station with the German radio station Deutsche Welle to cover the Western hemisphere); a multi-frequency broadcasting centre in Cyprus (for the Middle East, Europe and northern Africa); at Masirah, leased from Oman (for the Gulf region); in Seychelles (for east Africa); in Kranji in Singapore (for Southeast Asia); and in Hong Kong (for east Asia, especially China).
Other Western stations such as Deutsche Welle and Radio France International (RFI) also contributed to the war of words. RFI, particularly strong in the former colonies of France, had two main relay stations – at Moyabi in Gabon and in Montsinery in French Guiana. In addition, it leased transmitting facilities from commercial Radio Monte Carlo in Cyprus to broadcast to the Middle East. Unlike Britain, France did not play such an important role in the Cold War broadcasting battles – RFI was not jammed by the Soviet authorities. Concerned with maintaining its independent foreign policy and with a cultural focus, French international broadcasting concentrated on promoting its culture and commerce in its former colonies in Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean and parts of the Pacific, not least to boost the export of French broadcasting equipment (Wood, 1992: 199).

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Covert communication – Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty

Among the explicitly propagandist radio stations that thrived during the Cold War were Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberty (RL), operating from West Germany. While the Voice of America was the legitimate broadcasting arm of the United States Information Agency, the Munich-based RFE and RL were covert organizations carrying out a propaganda war against communism in Europe. They were part of what is now called ‘psychological warfare’ in which the ‘campaign for truth’ became the ‘crusade for freedom’.
Free Europe Inc. was established in 1949 as a non-profit-making, private corporation to broadcast news and current affairs programmes to Eastern European countries behind the Iron Curtain. Radio Liberation (the name Radio Liberty was adopted in 1963) was created two years later along the same lines to broadcast to the Soviet Union (Mickelson, 1983).
Both were covertly funded by the US Government, mainly through the Central Intelligence Agency until 1971, when funding and administrative responsibilities were transferred to a presidentially appointed Board for International Broadcasting (BIB). The two corporations were merged into RFE/RL in 1975. In 1994, its duties were transferred to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversaw all non-military US international broadcasting.
Regular broadcasts of RFE began in 1951 and though RL was also established in 1951, it did not begin broadcasting until 1953. Both stations broadcast from studios in Munich: RFE using transmitters in Germany and Portugal for its programmes in Polish, Czech, Slovak, Romanian, Hungarian and Bulgarian; RL from transmitters in Germany, Spain and Taiwan for its programmes in Russian (over half the output) and 17 other languages spoken in the Soviet Union. Fighting communism was the raison d’etre of these radio stations and therefore programmes were deliberately provocative to the communist governments, broadcasting emigre petitions and extracts from banned books, including works by anti-establishment writers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and scientists such as Andrei Sakharov.
The often crude and insensitive propaganda broadcast led to accusations from the Soviet Union of stirring up the 1956 revolt in Hungary. During the crisis, RFE encouraged the Hungarian people to rebel against the communist authorities, even misleading them with the promises of the imminent arrival of a ‘UN Delegation’ – a euphemism for US military intervention – which never materialized while the Soviet tanks crushed the uprising.
RFE and RL claimed to provide an alternative ‘Home Service’, intended to challenge the state or party monopoly over the media in the communist countries. The Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact regularly jammed RFE/RLs signals, denouncing them as a network of ‘radio saboteurs,’ and an integral part of US ‘electronic imperialism’ (Kashlev, 1984).
Under US President Ronald Reagan’s administration US public diplomacy became more strident and radio stations were directed to undertake a ‘vigorous advocacy’ of American foreign policy (Tuch, 1990). The Polish service of RFE played a key role in its support for Solidarity, the first ‘independent’ trade union in a communist country. During the industrial unrest of 1980s, two-thirds of the Polish adult population tuned in and this level of penetration of Western radio was ‘a major factor in the Soviet’s decision not to intervene militarily in the country as they had in Czechoslovakia in 1968’ “(Lord, 1998:62). In 1981, the Munich headquarters of RFE/RL were bombed, allegedly by Soviet secret services (ibid.).
In 1988, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ended the jamming, allowing RFE/RL signals to reach a broader audience. RFE/RL’s contribution to the end of communism in this region is now widely acknowledged (McNamara, 1992; Sosin, 1999). As one broadcaster wrote: ‘well before the Iron Curtain rusted – let alone was dismantled – its metal had been perforated by the sounds on the airwaves’ (Partos, 1993:91). Even the Russian President Boris Yeltsin personally intervened to help create an RFE/RL bureau in Moscow after the failed August 1991 coup. After many years in Munich, RFE/RLs headquarters moved to Prague in 1995.
It was only in the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, that these covert organizations came under public scrutiny, especially with the memoirs of George Urban, a former Director of Radio Free Europe (Critchlow, 1995; Urban, 1997). Because of RFE/RLs role in fighting communism, many thought that the radios had fulfilled their mission and might be disbanded. But officials across the region stressed the continuing need for precisely the kind of broadcasts RFE/RL had brought to this region. Nevertheless, RFE/RL did cut back in some areas even as it expanded in others. It closed its Polish Service, while its Czechoslovak Service was substantially reduced and joined with Czech Public Radio to establish a new public affairs radio programme. In 1994, RFE/RL began broadcasts to the former Yugoslavia, and in 1998, it launched its Persian Language Service and Radio Free Iraq. Such out-of-area activities were not new for these radios – during the years of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, RFE/RL established a bureau in Peshawar in Pakistan for propaganda purposes and in 1984 a new service Radio Free Afghanistan was created within RL, broadcasting in two major languages of Afghanistan – Dari and Pashto (Lord, 1998:64).
In 1999, RFE/RL was reaching 20 million listeners, broadcasting for more than 700 hours a week, in 25 languages, to countries stretching from Poland to the Pacific and from the Arctic to the Persian Gulf and ‘providing an alternative “home service” to countries where the media are struggling amid chaotic economic conditions to achieve genuine financial and editorial independence’ (website).
RFE/RL maintains 22 bureaux across the region and has broadcasting links with more than 1000 freelancers and stringers. It uses short-wave broadcasts to reach its listeners, but increasingly it is utilizing AM/FM stations through more than 90 affiliate partners and more than 220 transmission sites located in all its broadcast countries except Belarus, Iran, Iraq, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. In addition, RFE/RL maintains an active presence on the Internet, claiming that more than 5 million people visit its website every month.
Apart from Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, the United States supported other clandestine radio stations such as Radio Free Russia which aimed to use the Christian message to subvert atheistic states. It started operations in 1950 from South Korea and Taiwan as well as from West Germany. Run by the militantly anti-communist Popular Labour Union (NTS), this station also carried religious propaganda in Russian and in the Baltic languages, produced by a parallel organization, Radio Omega.
In addition to political propaganda, religious radio stations also contributed to the ideological battles against ‘Godless communism’. One key player was Trans World Radio, which started transmitting the gospel message from Tangier in Morocco in 1954 and has since evolved into one of the world’s largest radio networks, broadcasting in 75 languages. It now has an international network of transmitters located in every continent – Monte Carlo and Cyprus for Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, Swaziland for Africa; Sri Lanka for Asia, Guam for the Pacific region and Montevideo in Uruguay for Latin America (Wood, 1992:216).

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The Cold War – from Communist Propaganda to Capitalist Persuasion

The victorious allies of the Second World War – the Soviet Union and the West led by the United States – soon fell out as differences emerged about the post-war order in Europe and the rest of the world. The clash was, in essence, about two contrasting views of organizing society: the Soviet view, inspired by Marxism-Leninism, and the capitalist individualism championed by the USA. The defeat of Nazism and militarism of Japan was accompanied by the US-proclaimed victory of democracy and the creation of the United Nations system. Though the 1947 General Assembly Resolution 110 (II) condemned ‘all forms of propaganda which are designed or likely to provoke or encourage any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression’, both camps indulged in regular propaganda as the battle lines of the Cold War were being drawn (quoted in Taylor, 1997).

Soviet Broadcast Propaganda

In the same year, the Soviet Union revived the Comintern (Communist International) as Cominform (Communist Information Bureau), to organize a worldwide propaganda campaign orchestrated by the Administration of Agitation and Propaganda of the Communist Party Central Committee (AGITPROP). Communist propaganda, a central component of post-war Soviet diplomacy, was primarily aimed at the Eastern bloc, and, increasingly, to what came to be known as the Third World.
During the Cold War years, TASS remained a major source of news among the media in eastern bloc countries. The news agency which began as the St Petersburg Telegraph Agency (SPTA) in 1904, underwent a number of name changes before becoming Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) in 1925. In 1914, it was renamed the Petrograd Telegraph Agency (PTA) and in 1917, the Bolsheviks made the PTA the central news agency; a year later the PTA and the Press Bureau, also under the Council of People’s Commissars, were united to form the Russian Telegraph Agency (ROSTA).
Soviet propaganda – in heavy polemical Marxist terms about the ideological clash between communism and imperialism – was couched in the language of the class struggle between the capitalist bourgeoisie and the global proletariat, ideas which fell on receptive ears in countries colonized by European powers.
However, one of the first major propaganda battles the Soviet Union waged was in 1948 against a fellow socialist country – Yugoslavia, where Marshal Tito’s efforts to chart a foreign policy independent of dictates from Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, resulted in a massive propaganda effort to overthrow the leadership in Belgrade. Another test of Soviet propaganda in Eastern Europe came with the crisis in Hungary in 1956, where it had to fight hostile Western propaganda and protect a client regime. Similarly, during the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact countries under Moscow’s orders, Russian broadcasts to Czechoslovakia jumped from 17 hours per week just before the August 1968 invasion to 168 at the height of the crisis, falling back to 84 by September (Hale, 1975: 24).
By the late 1960s, Moscow Radio was the world’s largest single international broadcaster – between 1969 to 1972 it broadcast more programme hours than the United States. In addition, it used more languages – 84 – than any other international broadcaster, partly because the Soviet Union itself was a multilingual country. Between 1950 and 1973 external broadcasting from the Soviet Union grew from 533 hours to around 1950 hours per week. This is comparable with the whole of US external broadcasting – the world’s largest – including the official Voice of America (VOA) and the clandestine Radio Liberty (RL) and Radio Free Europe (RFE) – at 497 hours per week in 1950 and 2 060 in 1973 (Hale, 1975: 174).
Soviet broadcast policies were aimed at countering Western propaganda and promoting Moscow’s line on international affairs among the world’s communist parties, which became increasingly important in Soviet thinking after the Sino-Soviet split of 1968. The Sino-Soviet split – more influenced by geo-strategic than ideological-differences – led to mutual propaganda battles between the communist giants, with Radio Moscow increasing its Chinese language broadcasts from 77 hours a week in 1967 to 200 hours in 1972, while China, which by early 1970s had become the world’s third largest international broadcaster, also increased its broadcasts criticising Soviet ‘revisionism’.
While Soviet broadcasts – known more for their party line than professional journalism – had little impact in the West, in contrast to the popularity of Western broadcasts in the Eastern bloc, they nevertheless set the news agendas in Eastern Europe. The Soviet presence was also evident in the way the news media were organized in many communist countries and among socialist nations of the South.
However, Radio Moscow was no match for Western broadcasters in terms of the power of its transmitters and the availability of broadcasting outlets outside the communist world. Apart from broadcasters in Eastern Europe, Soviet broadcasts had only one other outlet – Radio Habana in Cuba, which was suspended after the ending of the Cold War. With their worldwide network of relay stations, the Western powers had a distinct advantage and were able to beam propaganda with little interference (Nelson, 1997). Since there was scant interest among Western populations for Russian international broadcasts, Western governments did not have to worry about jamming them. In contrast, the authorities in Moscow tried to interfere with Western broadcasts, seeing them as a network of ‘radio saboteurs’ subverting the achievements of socialism.

US Broadcast Propaganda

Although the Voice of America had been a part of US diplomacy during the Second World War, with the advent of the Cold War, propaganda became a crucial component of US foreign broadcasting (Sorensen, 1968; Lisann, 1975; Rawnsley, 1996). The key instruments of US international broadcasting – The Voice of America, Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe, and the American Forces Network – were all state-funded. The VOA was the official mouthpiece of the US Government, the largest single element in the US Information Agency (USIA) and ultimately answerable to the US State Department. Unlike the BBC World Service, it depended on official comment as it only used VOA staff for commentaries, thereby restricting the range of opinions expressed by its programmes and thus straining its credibility as an international broadcaster.
An early indication of the increasing use of radio for propaganda was evident in the way VOA was used to promote US President Harry Truman’s ‘Campaign for Truth’ against communism, following the outbreak in 1950 of the Korean War. The campaign was aimed at legitimizing US involvement in the Korean War, which claimed more than a million lives and became the first test of superpower rivalry in the developing world, a pattern repeated in several other Cold War-related conflicts in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
A year later, in 1951, Truman set up a Psychological Strategy Board, responsible to the National Security Council, to advise on international anticommunist propaganda. In 1953, his successor President Dwight Eisenhower appointed a personal adviser on ‘psychological warfare’ – resulting in an increased stridency in the anti-communist rhetoric emanating from VOA.
In the United States, propaganda was part of what John Martin, a former researcher for the USIA, called ‘facilitative communication’ which he defined as ‘activity that is designed to keep lines open and to maintain them against the day when they will be needed for propaganda purposes’ (Martin, 1976: 263). This included press releases, seminars, conferences, and exhibitions, as well as books, films, educational and cultural exchange programmes and scholarships for technical and scientific research.
VOA operated a global network of relay stations to propagate the ideal of ‘the American way of life’ to international listeners. The nodal points in this worldwide network linked to the control centre in Washington, included Bangkok for Southeast Asia; Poro and Tinang in the Philippines for China and Southeast Asia; Colombo for South Asia; Tangier in Morocco, for North Africa; Rhodes in Greece, for the Middle East; Selebi- Phikwe in Botswana, for southern Africa; Monrovia in Liberia for Sub- Saharan Africa; Munich for Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Woofferton in England (leased from the BBC) for the former Soviet Union; Greenville in the USA for Latin America; and Punta Gorda in Belize for Central America (see map).
The transmitters were chosen for their strategic locations, close to the target zone to ensure a stronger and more stable signal and to overcome possible jamming. In many instances the locations of transmitters remained a secret as did the broadcasting of subversive and misleading information to confuse the West’s Cold War adversaries.

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The Battle of the Airwaves – Mass Media Communication

The battle of the airwaves The strategic significance of international communication grew with the expansion of the new medium. Ever since the advent of radio, its use for propaganda was an integral part of its development, with its power to influence values, beliefs and attitudes (Taylor, 1995). During the First World War, the power of radio was quickly recognized as vital both to the management of public opinion at home and propaganda abroad, directed at allies and enemies alike. As noted by a distinguished scholar of propaganda: ‘During the war period it came to be recognised that the mobilisation of men and means was not sufficient; there must be mobilisation of opinion. Power over opinion, as over life and property, passed into official hands’ (Lasswell, 1927: 14).
The Russian communists were one of the earliest political groups to realize the ideological and strategic importance of broadcasting, and the first public broadcast to be recorded in the history of wireless propaganda was by the Council of the People’s Commissar’s of Lenin’s historic message on 30 October 1917: ‘The All-Russian Congress of Soviets has formed a new Soviet Government. The Government of Kerensky has been overthrown and arrested. Kerensky himself has fled. All official institutions are in the hands of the Soviet Government’ (quoted in Hale, 1975: 16).
The Soviet Union was one of the first countries to take advantage of a medium which could reach across continents and national boundaries to an international audience. The world’s first short-wave radio broadcasts were sent out from Moscow in 1925. Within five years, the All-Union Radio was regularly broadcasting communist propaganda in German, French, Dutch and English.
By the time the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, radio broadcasting had become an extension of international diplomacy. The head of Hitler’s Propaganda Ministry, Josef Goebbels, believed in the power of radio broadcasting as a tool of propaganda. ‘Real broadcasting is true propaganda. Propaganda means fighting on all battlefields of the spirit, generating, multiplying, destroying, exterminating, building and undoing. Our propaganda is determined by what we call German race, blood and nation’ (quoted in Hale, 1975: 2).
In 1935, Nazi Germany turned its attention to disseminating worldwide the racist and anti-Semitic ideology of the Third Reich. The Nazi Reichsender broadcasts were targeted at Germans living abroad, as far afield as South America and Australia. These short-wave transmissions were rebroadcast by Argentina, home to many Germans. Later the Nazis expanded their international broadcasting to include several languages, including Afrikaans, Arabic and Hindustani and, by 1945, German radio was broadcasting in more than 50 languages.
In Fascist Italy, under Benito Mussolini, a Ministry of Print and Propaganda was created to promote Fascist ideals and win public opinion for colonial campaigns such as the invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935, and support for Francisco Franco’s Fascists during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Mussolini also distributed radio sets to Arabs, tuned to one station alone – Radio Bari in southern Italy. This propaganda prompted the British Foreign Office to create a monitoring unit of the BBC to listen in to international broadcasts and later to start an Arabic language service to the region.
The Second World War saw an explosion in international broadcasting as a propaganda tool on both sides. Japanese wartime propaganda included short-wave transmissions from Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, to South-east and East Asia and also to the West coast of the United States, which had a large Japanese-American population. In addition, NHK also transmitted high-quality propaganda programmes such as Zero Hour aimed at US troops in the Pacific islands (Wood, 1992).
Although the BBC, apart from the Empire Service (the precursor of the BBC World Service), was not directly controlled by the British Government, its claim to independence during the war, was ‘little more than a self-adulatory part of the British myth’ (Curran and Seaton, 1996: 147). John Reith, its first Director General and the spirit behind the BBC, was for a time the Minister of Information in 1940 and resented being referred to as ‘Dr Goebbels’ opposite number’ (Hickman, 1995: 29).
The Empire Service had been established in 1932 with the aim of connecting the scattered parts of the British Empire. Funded by the Foreign Office, it tended to reflect the government’s public diplomacy. At the beginning of the Second World War, the BBC was broadcasting in seven foreign languages apart from English – Afrikaans, Arabic, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish (Walker, 1992: 36). By the end of the war it was broadcasting in 39 languages.
The French General De Gaulle used the BBC’s French service, during the war years, to send messages to the resistance movement in occupied France and for a time between October 1942 and May 1943, the BBC broadcast a weekly 15-minute newsletter to Russia with the co-operation of the Russian news agency TASS (Telegrafnoe agentstvo Sovetskogo Soiuza). It also broadcast The Shadow of the Swastika, the first of a series of dramas about the Nazi Party. The BBC helped the US Army to create the American Forces Network, which broadcast recordings of American shows for US forces in Britain, Middle East and Africa. More importantly, given Britain’s proximity to the war theatre, the BBC played a key role in the propaganda offensive and often it was more effective than American propaganda which, as British media historian Asa Briggs comments was ‘both distant and yet too brash, too unsophisticated and yet too contrived to challenge the propaganda forces already at-work on the continent’ (1970:412).
Until the Second World War radio in the USA was known more for its commercial potential as a vehicle for advertisements rather than a government propaganda tool, but after 1942, the year the Voice of America (VOA) was founded, the US Government made effective use of radio to promote its political interests – a process which reached its high point during the decades of Cold War.

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Radio and International Communication

As with other new technologies, Western countries were the first to grasp the strategic implications of radio communication after the first radio transmissions of the human voice in 1902. Unlike cable, radio equipment was comparatively cheap and could be sold on a mass scale. There was also a growing awareness among American businesses that radio, if properly developed and controlled, might be used to undercut the huge advantages of British-dominated international cable links (Luther, 1988). They realized that, while undersea cables and their landing terminals could be vulnerable, and their location required bilateral negotiations between nations, radio waves could travel anywhere, unrestrained by politics or geography.
At the 1906 international radiotelegraph conference in Berlin, 28 states debated radio equipment standards and procedures to minimize interference. The great naval powers, who were also the major users of radio (Britain, Germany, France, the USA and Russia), had imposed a regime of radio frequency allocation, allowing priority to the country that first notified the International Radiotelegraph Union of its intention to use a specific radio frequency (Mattelart, 1994).
As worldwide radio broadcasting grew, stations that transmitted across national borders had, in accordance with an agreement signed in London in 1912, to register their use of a particular wavelength with the international secretariat of the International Radiotelegraph Union. But there was no mechanism for either assigning or withholding slots; it was a system of first come, first served. Thus the companies or states with the necessary capital and technology prevailed in taking control of the limited spectrum space, to the disadvantage of smaller and less developed countries (Hamelink, 1994).
Two distinct types of national radio broadcasting emerged: in the USA, the Radio Act of 1927 enshrined its established status as a commercial enterprise, funded by advertising, while the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), founded in 1927, as a non-profit, public broadcasting monopoly, provided a model for several other European and Commonwealth countries (McChesney, 1993).
As the strongest voice in the World Radio Conference in Washington in 1927, private companies helped to write an agreement that allowed them to continue developing their use of the spectrum, without regard to possible signal interference for other countries. By being embodied in an international treaty, these provisions took on the character of ‘international law’, including the principle of allocating specific wavelengths for particular purposes (Luther, 1988). A major consequence of this conference was to reinforce US and European domination of the international radio spectrum. However, it was the Soviet Union which became the first nation to exploit this new medium for international broadcasting.

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The Advent of Popular Media

The expansion of printing presses and the internationalization of news agencies were contributing factors in the growth of a worldwide newspaper industry. The Times of India was founded in 1838 while Southeast Asia’s premier newspaper The Straits Times was started as a daily newspaper from Singapore in 1858. Advances in printing technology meant that newspapers in non-European languages could also be printed and distributed. By 1870 more than 140 newspapers were being printed in Indian languages; in Cairo Al-Ahram, the newspaper which has defined Arab journalism for more than a century, was established in 1875, while in 1890, Japan’s most respected newspaper Asahi Shimbun (Morning Sun) was founded. In Europe, the growth of popular press was unprecedented in the 1890s – France’s Le Petit Parisien had a circulation of 1 million in 1890, while in Britain, the Daily Mail, launched in 1896, which redefined boundaries of journalism, was doing roaring business.
Newspapers were used by leaders to articulate nascent nationalism in many Asian countries. The Chinese nationalist leader Sun Yat Sen founded Chung-kuo Jih-pao (Chinese daily paper) in 1899 while in India Mahatma Gandhi used Young India, later named Harijan to propagate an anticolonial agenda.
However, it was the USA which had the biggest international impact on media cultures symbolized by William Randolph Hearst, one of the world’s first media moguls. His New York Journal heralded the penny press in the USA, while the International News Service, which sold articles, crossword puzzles and comic strips to newspapers, created the world’s first syndicate service. It was succeeded in 1915 by the King Feature Syndicate, whose comic strips were used by newspapers all over the world, for most of the twentieth century.
The internationalization of a nascent mass culture, however, began with the film industry. Following the first screening in Paris and Berlin in 1895, films were being seen a year later from Bombay to Buenos Aires. By the First World War, the European market was dominated by the firm Pathe, founded in 1907 in France, whose distribution bureaux were located in seven European countries as well as in Turkey, the USA and Brazil. The development of independent studios between 1909 and 1913 led to the growth of the Hollywood film industry which was to dominate global film production (Mattelart, 1994).
In the realm of popular music, the dog and trumpet logo of ‘His Master’s Voice’ (HMV) label of the Gramophone Company, became a global image. Within a few years of the founding of the company, in 1897, its recording engineers were at work in the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa, India, Iran and China. By 1906, 60 per cent of the company’s profits were earned from overseas sales (Pandit, 1996: 57). After its merger with the US giant Columbia Gramophone Company in 1931 it formed EMI (Electric and Musical Industries), beginning a process of Anglo-American domination of the international recording industry that has lasted throughout the twentieth century.
By the end of the nineteenth century, US-based advertising companies were already looking beyond the domestic market. J. Walter Thompson, for example, established ‘sales bureau’ in London in 1899. The USA, where advertising was given its modern form, was an early convert to the power of advertising, making it the world’s most consumerist society. The spending on advertising in the USA increased from $0.45 billion at the start of the century to $212 billion by its end.
In the twentieth century, advertising became increasingly important in international communication. From the 1901 advertisement for the record label His Master’s Voice to the famous 1929 line ‘The pause that refreshes’, to De Beers’ hugely popular campaign ‘A diamond is forever’ put out in 1948, advertisers have aimed at international audiences. This trend became even stronger with the growth of radio and television, with messages such as Pepsi-Cola’s 1964 ‘The Pepsi generation’; Coca-Cola’s 1970 rebuke ‘It’s the real thing’; Nike’s 1988 slogan ‘Just do it’ and Coca-Cola’s 1993 one-word advice, ‘Always’, being consumed across the world.
The American cowboy and masculine trademark of The Marlboro Man, introduced in 1955 and identified with Philip Morris’s Marlboro cigarettes, became a worldwide advertising presence, making Marlboro the best-selling cigarette in the world. Though tobacco advertisements were banned on the USA television in 1971 and since then health groups have fought against promoting smoking through advertisement in the USA and other Western countries, The Marlboro Man was nominated as the icon of the twentieth century by the US trade journal Advertising Age International.

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