Hans N. (Tom) Tuch was a highly-respected deputy and for some months, acting director of the Voice of America in the late 1970s. I recall the first day of Tom’s tenure at the Voice as controversy swirled anew around whether or not VOA correspondents were U.S. officials, or journalists.
It was a day of drama for many Voice veterans. How would a tried and true diplomat like Mr. Tuch fit into culture of many tried and true journalists at VOA, committed to full and fair coverage of events as pledged in legislation passed by Congress in 1976 as the law of the land?
Specifically, Public Law 94-350 of 1976 implemented an earlier Eisenhower administration executive order: “The news may be good for us, or bad, but we shall tell you the truth.” That authorization act mandated that VOA broadcasts be “accurate, objective and comprehensive.” Now, with passage of P.L. 94-350, this had been officially affirmed by both the executive and legislative branches.
Shortly after being introduced three years later as the new deputy and now acting director at the Voice, Tuch got an urgent call from “uptown.” That was the central headquarters of VOA’s parent agency at the time, the U.S. Information Agency. Tom was ordered by USIA senior leaders “to come uptown” for what they termed “a critical emergency.”
Upon his return to the Voice from our parent Agency that same day, Tom summed it all up for me (then chief of VOA News and Current Affairs.) Newsroom director Bernie Kamenske and I asked, “What’s up?”
Tom replied: “They asked me to demand Bernie’s immediate resignation.” Kamenske had gone public without clearance about an attempt by the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to prevent the local VOA contract reporter Charlie Weiss from covering events in Israel and the always turbulent Mideast.
“I can’t force a well-respected VOA news chief out on my first day at the Voice. My own tenure would be crippled from the beginning. Let me look into this and get back to you.”
During the ensuing discussion — likely the most decisive of my 36 years at the Voice — Bernie took the lead and agreed:
- to confer with us about any efforts by overseas embassies to tamper with the news and not to go public with such attempts, and
- to bring any attempts by U.S. overseas posts to restrict VOA reportage to us. We, in turn, would work with senior USIA management, in order to involve all parties directly affected in solving complex disputes.
Tom advised his bosses at the Agency about our proposal, and they, in turn, concurred. It was early 1979, three years after the Charter became law. Bernie left VOA in December 1981 to work as a senior editor at CNN for a couple of years before health problems forced him to permanently retire.
During one of the periods Tom was acting VOA Director, he appeared at a hearing on Capitol Hill before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Committee chairman, Senator Charles Percy, said: “Mr. Tuch, if you let anyone in this government or abroad, interfere with the news broadcasts of the Voice of America, you are breaking the law.” That, Tom recalled later, “was something that any news editor or VOA director took to heart.”
Since then, PL 94-103 has been faithfully observed by all, inside the Voice or its oversight agencies: a monument to the VOA and to Hans N. (Tom) Tuch, who insisted on safeguarding an institution that today reaches an estimated 280 million people around the globe each and every week.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More