Ronald Reagan picture

Radio Address to the Nation on American International Broadcasting

September 10, 1983

My fellow Americans:

During my first press conference 9 days after being sworn in as your President, I was asked a question having to do with Soviet intentions. In my answer I cited their own words—that they have openly and publicly declared the only morality they recognize is what will further world communism; that they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain that. And I pointed out that we should keep this in mind when we deal with them.

I was charged with being too harsh in my language. I tried to point out I was only quoting their own words. Well, I hope the Soviets' recent behavior will dispel any lingering doubt about what kind of regime we're dealing with and what our responsibilities are as trustees of freedom and peace. Isn't it time for all of us to see the Soviet rulers as they are, rather than as we would like them to be?

Rather than tell the truth about the Korean Air Lines massacre, rather than immediately and publicly investigate the crash, explain to the world how it happened, punish those guilty of the crime, cooperate in efforts to find the wreckage, recover the bodies, apologize and offer compensation to the families, and work to prevent a repetition, they have done the opposite. They've stonewalled the world, mobilizing their entire government behind a massive coverup, then brazenly threatening to kill more men, women, and children should another civilian airliner make the same mistake as KAL 007.

The Soviets are terrified of the truth. They understand well and they dread the meaning of St. John's words: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." The truth is mankind's best hope for a better world. That's why in times like this, few assets are more important than the Voice of America and Radio Liberty, our primary means of getting the truth to the Russian people.

Within minutes of the report of the Soviet destruction of the Korean jet, the Voice of America aired the story in its news programs around the globe. We made sure people in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and, most important, the people in the Soviet bloc itself knew the truth. That includes every Soviet misstatement, from their initial denials through all the tortured changes and contradictions in their story, including their U.N. representative still denying they shot down the plane even as his own government was finally admitting they did.

Accurate news like this is about as web come as the plague among the Soviet elite. Censorship is as natural and necessary to the survival of their dictatorship as free speech is to our democracy. That's why they devote such enormous resources to block our broadcasts inside Soviet-controlled countries. The Soviets spend more to block Western broadcasts coming into those countries than the entire worldwide budget of the Voice of America.

To get the news across to the Russian people about the Korean Air Lines massacre, the Voice of America added new frequencies and new broadcast times. But within minutes of those changes, new Soviet jamming began. Luckily, jamming is more like a sieve than a wall. International radio broadcasts can still get through to many people with the news. But we still face enormous difficulties.

One of the Voice of America's listeners in the Middle East wrote, "If you do not strengthen your broadcasting frequencies, no one can get anything from your program." Our radio equipment is just plain old, some of it World War II vintage. I don't mind people getting older; it's just not so good for machines.

More than 35 percent of the Voice of America's transmitters are over 30 years old. We have a similar problem at Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. We have 6 antiquated 500-kilowatt shortwave transmitters. The Soviets have 37, and theirs are neither old nor outdated. We regularly receive complaints that Soviet broadcasts are clearer than ours. One person wrote and asked why it's not possible for a nation that can send ships into space to have its own voice heard here on Earth.

The answer is simple. We're as far behind the Soviets and their allies in international broadcasting today as we were in space when they launched sputnik in 1957.

We've repeatedly urged the Congress to support our long-term modernization program and our proposal for a new radio station, Radio Marti, for broadcasting to Cuba. The sums involved are modest, but for whatever reason this critical program has not been enacted.

Today I'm appealing to the Congress: Help us get the truth through. Help us strengthen our international broadcasting effort by supporting increased funding for the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and by authorizing the establishment of Radio Marti.

And I appeal to you, especially those of you who came from Eastern Europe, Russia, and Soviet-dominated countries, who understand how crucial this issue is, let your Representatives hear from you. Tell them you want Soviet rulers held accountable for their actions even by their own people. The truth is still our strongest weapon; we just have to use it.

Finally, let us come together as a nation tomorrow in a National Day of Mourning to share the sorrow of the families and let us resolve that this crime against humanity will never be forgotten anywhere in the world.

Until next week, thank you for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on American International Broadcasting Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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