In the fall of 1956, under the shadow of the Soviet Union, Hungarian students revolted against the Communist Party in Budapest. But their calls for reform and a moderate government were silenced by Soviet troops. America’s broadcaster to Hungary, Radio Free Europe (RFE), was wrapped up in the Hungarian Revolution due to its role as one key voice of the American government. Some blamed the radio station for an overly assertive tone, encouraging protesters, and even incitement. Others argued that the station was a mild factor, in addition to many others, and that revolution had been brewing for years. Looking back, a debate emerges: What was the role of American broadcasting in fueling public optimism for change, and even revolution, in 1956 Budapest?
Some themes that emerge from the short case are that broadcasting and communications do not occur in a vacuum. There is history, context, organization and coincidence that impact meaning. Tone can be impactful as well. This case looks at these nuances in communications and the impact of communications on policy and politics.