HISTORY: JFK on VOA’s Mission – 20th Anniversary of the Voice of America 1962

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum

President John F. Kennedy speaks at a celebration of Voice of America’s twentieth year of broadcasting as part of the United States Information Agency (USIA), in the auditorium of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), Washington, D.C. Seated behind President Kennedy are (L-R): Unidentified; Henry Loomis, Director of Voice of America; Edward R. Murrow, Director of USIA; Secretary of State Dean Rusk. 1
 
 

Sound Recording of President Kennedy’s Remarks for 20th Anniversary of the Voice of America

 

 
Sound recording of President John F. Kennedy’s remarks at a celebration commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America held in the Health, Education, and Welfare Auditorium.
 

In his February 26, 1962 speech to mark the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America (VOA), President Kennedy discussed the necessity of freedom of information and complete truthfulness of the press, but he also argued that the Voice of America is different from private U.S. news media. He pointed out that VOA managers, editors and broadcasters have a more difficult job than private media reporters and a much higher level of responsibility in carrying out their mission on behalf of the United States Government and the American people. “I believe that over the years, faced with this very difficult challenge, far more difficult than that of an American editor or a newspaperman, or a commentator on an American radio or television station, you have been able to tell our story in a way which makes it believable and credible,” President Kennedy said in his remarks to VOA government managers and broadcasters.

The Cold War Radio Museum post also includes recordings of remarks by the Voice of America Director Henry Loomis, United States Information Agency (USIA) Director Edward R. Murrow and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, as well as sound recordings of VOA anniversary greetings in Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish spoken by:

Mrs. Dala Khleif, in Arabic;

Mrs. Mei-Sien Huang, in Chinese;

Mr. Victor Franzusoff, in Russian;

Mr. Herbert Morales, in Spanish.

 
 

Sound Recording of VOA Message in Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish

 

 
 

READ MORE: JFK on VOA and RFE 1962, Cold War Radio Museum, March 27, 2018

 
 

Remarks on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America, 26 February 1962

 

 

ADDRESS
THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
THE HONORABLE JOHN F. KENNEDY

Occupying as I do a rather secondary status these days, I am very appreciative to you all for waiting. I think that this meeting is tied up with the common American interest in Colonel Glenn, and I feel that in addition to being dry, we are also contributing a little to telling the story of which he is a great part—as are Alan Shepard and the others.

I was most anxious to come here personally today, because I put such great importance in the work that you are doing. The Voice of America occupies, I believe, a key part in the story of American life. What we do here in this country, and what we are, what we want to be, represents really a great experiment in a most difficult kind of self-discipline, and that is the organization and maintenance and development of the progress of free government. And it is your task, as the executives and participants in the Voice of America, to tell that story around the world.

This is an extremely difficult and sensitive task. On the one hand you are an arm of the Government and therefore an arm of the Nation, and it is your task to bring our story around the world in a way which serves to represent democracy and the United States in its most favorable light. But on the other hand, as part of the cause of freedom, and the arm of freedom, you are obliged to tell our story in a truthful way, to tell it, as Oliver Cromwell said about his portrait, “Paint us with all our blemishes and warts, all those things about us that may not be so immediately attractive.”

We compete with other means of communication, of those who are our adversaries who tell only the good stories. But the things that go bad in America, you must tell them also. And we hope that the bad and the good is sifted together by people of judgment and discretion and taste and discrimination, that they will realize what we are trying to do here.

This presents to you an almost impossible challenge, and it is a source of satisfaction to me that in the last 20 years you have met that challenge so well. I know that there are those who are always critical of the Voice, but I believe that over the years, faced with this very difficult challenge, far more difficult than that of an American editor or a newspaperman, or a commentator on an American radio or television station, you have been able to tell our story in a way which makes it believable and credible. And that is what I hope you will continue to do in the future.

The first words that the Voice of America spoke were 20 years ago. They said, “The Voice of America speaks. Today America has been at war for 79 days. Daily at this time we shall speak to you about America and the war, and the news may be good or bad. We shall tell you the truth.” And so you have, for 20 years—and so you shall for 20 years more.

In 1946 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution reading in part, “Freedom of information is a fundamental human right, and the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.” This is our touchstone as well. This is the code of the Voice of America. We welcome the views of others. We seek a free flow of information across national boundaries and oceans, across iron curtains and stone walls. We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

The Voice of America thus carries a heavy responsibility. Its burden of truth is not easy to bear. It must explain to a curious and suspicious world what we are. It must tell them of our basic beliefs. It must tell them of a country which is in some ways a rather old country—certainly old as Republics go. And yet it must make our ideas alive and new and vital in the high competition which goes on around the world since the end of World War Two.

In the last 20 years the Voice of America and its parent organization have grown in strength and in stature, but in the next 20 years our opportunities to tell our story will expand beyond belief. The event of the Communications Satellite, the modernization of education of less-developed nations, the new wonders of electronics and technology, all these and other developments will give our generation an unprecedented opportunity to tell our story. And we must not only be equal to the opportunity, but to the challenge as well.

For in the next 20 years your problem and ours as a country, in telling our story, will grow more complex. The choices we present to the world will be more difficult, and for some the future will seem even more empty of hope and progress. The barrage upon truth will grow more constant, and some people cannot bear the responsibility of a free choice which goes with self-government. And finally, shrinking from choice, they turn to those who prevent them from choosing, and thus find in a kind of prison a kind of security.

We believe that people are capable of standing the burdens and the pressures which choice places upon them, and it is because of this strong conviction that this organization functions, and it is because there is this commitment to this view that you continue to serve in it.

None of you is interested in serving in an agency which merely reflects a line which the Government from time to time may set down. You serve in it—and you all could serve in different agencies or in different parts of life—because you believe, I am sure, that this is a vital part of telling our story around the world.

And as you tell it, it spreads. And as it spreads, not only is the security of the United States assisted, but the cause of freedom.

So I salute you on your 20th birthday and say that in the next 20 years when these choices will become more vital to us, I believe that the Voice of America will be fulfilling its function, as it did that first day when it committed itself to truth.

 

 

 

 

U.S GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE: 1962

 
 
 

Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. President’s Office Files. Speech Files. Remarks on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America, 26 February 1962

 
A press copy and draft of President John. F. Kennedy’s remarks on the twentieth anniversary of the Voice of America in the White House Health, Education, and Welfare Auditorium concerning the necessity of freedom of information and complete truthfulness of the media. Of note are handwritten notations by the President on the draft copy of the speech. 2

 

Voice of America

 

20th Anniversary Commemoration

 

MONDAY FEBRUARY 26, 1962

 

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Notes:

  1. Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
  2. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. President’s Office Files. Speech Files. Remarks on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America, 26 February 1962