Journal Article

Creating an ‘Atmosphere of Objectivity’: Radio in the American Sector, Objectivity and the United States’ Propaganda Campaign against the German Democratic Republic, 1945–1961

Nicholas J. Schlosser

in German History

Volume 29, issue 4, pages 610-627
Published in print December 2011 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online December 2011 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gerhis/ghr067
Creating an ‘Atmosphere of Objectivity’: Radio in the American Sector, Objectivity and the United States’ Propaganda Campaign against the German Democratic Republic, 1945–1961

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Radio broadcasting played a critical role in the ‘cultural’ Cold War waged by the Western and Eastern bloc powers. Nowhere was this clearer than in divided Berlin, where stations on both sides of the Iron Curtain vied with one another to define the political narrative and shape public opinion. The American-funded broadcaster RIAS Berlin quickly became one of the most important elements of the United States propaganda offensive against the German Democratic Republic. Founded in 1946, RIAS was reportedly one of the most popular sources for news and information in the German Democratic Republic throughout the 1950s. Listeners in East Germany saw RIAS as an objective alternative to East Germany’s state-run, overtly propagandistic media organs, despite the fact that RIAS was a propaganda broadcaster itself. Using RIAS’s news broadcasts as a case study, this essay examines the nature and impact of American propaganda on East Germany and the Soviet Bloc during the early Cold War. Drawing on surveys, letters, and polls of East German listening habits conducted by American and West German agencies, this essay argues that RIAS’s popularity stemmed from its staff’s decision to present news programming that balanced anti-communism with an ‘objective’ tone and style of presentation. For RIAS’s staff, ‘objective’ reporting entailed broadcasts that presented accurate information that also undermined the legitimacy of the East German state. In doing this, RIAS was able to find a substantial audience willing to embrace the station’s anti-communist programming and its attacks on the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED).

Keywords: Cold War; propaganda; radio; United States Information Agency; German Democratic Republic (East Germany); Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany)

Journal Article.  9538 words. 

Subjects: European History

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