In support of martial law in Poland, the Soviet Union is now jamming radio broadcasts from a US-supported radio corporation at a record rate. The United States considers the jamming of Munich-based Radio Free Europe (RFE) to be a violation of the 1975 Helsinki accords.
But the Soviets, together with the Polish authorities, apparently consider the jamming essential to the success of martial law. In the United States, many analysts of the situation believe that if resistance to martial law is to continue, it is vital that independent information, such as RFE provides, reaches the Poles.
The military-controlled Polish media have been telling the Poles that the situation is returning to normal. Workers who are still resisting martial law are being told that they are isolated. Based on its own research and on interviews with travelers reaching the West from Poland, RFE has been reporting a different picture.
Following the imposition of martial law two weeks ago, RFE increased its broadcasts to Poland from 19 hours and 10 minutes to 24 hours a day. That peak lasted only a few days, however. The news blackout clamped on Poland by the martial law authorities reduced the amount of information reaching the West about the situation. And the overtime working hours began to exhaust the RFE's Polish staff.
The Soviets and Polish military authorities apparently consider RFE to be the greatest threat to them at the moment in the East-West propaganda war. The Voice of America (VOA), a US-government funded international radio, has more than doubled its broadcasts to Poland, going from 21/2 to more than 5 hours a day. But the VOA cannot match the intensity of RFE's broadcasts to Poland. It has a Polish staff of 17 people compared with RFE's Polish staff of about 70.
The VOA has worldwide obligations and listeners. RFE concentrates on Eastern Europe. In Poland, it offers a full range of radio services, including not only news and commentary but also music, cultural programs, and sports coverage of interest to the Poles. In other words, it serves as a surrogate Polish radio, offering the Poles a constant alternative to their own controlled media.
RFE is a nonprofit corporation operating under American management and funded by congressional grants supplied through the presidentially appointed Board for International Broadcasting. Founded in 1950, RFE was once funded largely by the US Central Intelligence Agency but that connection was cut in 1971. The radio was accused of raising false hopes for Western assistance to Hungary during the Hungarian revolution of 1956-57. But RFE officials say that a careful review of that period showed in fact that the radio neither incited the Hungarians to revolt nor offered the prospect that Western help was on the way.
William Buell, vice-president in charge of US operations for RFE, says that the radio is being careful during the current crisis not to contribute by tone or content to an atmosphere of tension in Poland. Like the VOA, RFE will not broadcast a story, Mr. Buell says, unless it comes from at least two independent sources.
In the early 1970s, a number of US senators and congressmen were critical of RFE because they felt it was a remnant of the cold war. But along with a growing American disillusionment with US-Soviet detente, the radio has gained support on Capitol Hill.
The Carter administration cut the radio's budget but the Reagan administration has restored those cuts to the point where RFE can keep up with inflation. Its total budget for the current fiscal year comes to nearly $90 million.
The silver-haired Buell, who once worked in the US Foreign Service in Poland and directed the VOA's Polish programs, says that RFE hopes to get added financial support for its effort in Poland.
According to Buell, RFE broadcasts to Poland are now being jammed at a heavier rate than those which have ever gone to any East European country. He said that the Soviet Union is estimated to be spending at least $200 million and perhaps $300 million a year on such jamming.