Foreign Broadcast Information Service: A Brief Overview of Its Daily Reports and Their Value for International Studies

From 1941 to 1996 the U.S. government published the Daily Report of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS). FBIS was begun in 1941 as a means of letting the government know what propaganda was being broadcast into the U.S. by the shortwave radio services of the foreign governments involved in the European war.

Broadcasts deemed of potential interest to U.S. government officials were selected for translation into English. Political, economic and war news dominated the first years of FBIS. Broadcasts were either transcribed in their entirety, in part, or were briefly summarized. Every day a Daily Report was published and delivered. After World War II the number of FBIS sources grew, and the size of the Daily Report ballooned. In the early 1970s FBIS Daily Reports began to be delivered in Regional Reports whose names changed over time. Sources now included newspapers and television news shows as well as radio broadcasts.

Graham E. Fuller, a former C.I.A. official, wrote about FBIS Reports in a Consortium News piece entitled, “Value in Reading Others’ Propaganda,” which was published online on September 29, 2015. In this piece Fuller writes:

Indeed there was an entire branch of CIA which monitored and published on a daily basis a thick booklet of selected broadcast items from around the world—available by subscription. The Foreign Broadcast Information Service provided an invaluable service. It is now sadly defunct, the victim of short-sighted budget cutting—an operation which probably cost less annually than one fighter aircraft and offered much more.

One virtue of these broadcast items was the nuggets of domestic information from those countries which were otherwise not readily known about—a kind of news coverage. But the greater value was the ability to see how a foreign state viewed itself and the world around it. Propaganda? Sure, in one sense. But the thoughtful reader could fairly soon get a sense of how Russia, China, North Korea, or say Iran, saw themselves. Sometimes you might find a strikingly different interpretation of events that revealed a lot about their psychology and even their likely reactions and behavior down the road.

Within FBIS Daily Reports there are basically three major types of articles:

  • Stories and analysis about the country presented to domestic readers or listeners, as seen in these two examples from Germany and Japan in 1945:  

 …that our Fuehrer Adolf Hitler, fighting to the last breath against Bolshevism, fell for Germany this afternoon (May 1) in his operational Headquarters…

 

 ... the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest. (Report, page 2)

 

  • Stories and analysis about a third country presented to domestic readers or listeners, as seen in these three examples about the 1984 Bophal Disaster from India, China and the Soviet Union: 

        ...he (Rajiv Gandhi) said speedy and effective steps are being taken for relief and rehabilitation of all the affected families.

      

 “Export of pollution” has become characteristic of industries exported by of [sic] some industrialized countries.

 

 It is the Union Carbine Corporation, the American company, that is responsible for the tragedy that befell the populaton of Bhopal...

 

  • Stories about U.S. actions for domestic readers or listeners, as seen in these two examples about the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.: 

 Was it chance circumstance that it took place in the southern state of Texas, which is commonly known as the stronghold of American racists, Birchists, and other fascist-minded rabble?

 

 ...we see that the U.S. ruling class fears the repercussions of its violent policy and new actions by the 22 million Negro citizens. And these actions are already threatening.

By combining a variety of sources from multiple countries on a topic, the Readex digital edition of FBIS Daily Reports, 1941-1996, enables students and scholars to analyze events as they happened and to show how countries worldwide were reporting on them. Bear in mind that many of the FBIS sources were governmental, so the reporting and analysis reflects internal or external propaganda. Because of the politics of the mid-twentieth century, FBIS is a major repository for the largely vanished propaganda languages of the Third Reich and Soviet Union.

Readex’s FBIS Daily Reports database is searchable by full text, by the title, by the source and by language. Results can be limited by date ranges. Searches can be done by article types, which include interviews, speeches, verbatim text, excerpts and summaries or overviews written by FBIS staff. The Regional Reports can be used for searches after the early 1970s. Any combination of these items can be used.

A quick way into the wealth of the FBIS Daily Reports is the Events tab which provides nearly 500 searches. These range from huge historical events like the Battle of Stalingrad to smaller crises like the soccer war between Honduras and El Salvador. All the examples shown above were quickly gathered using these Events.

In short, FBIS Daily Reports represents a valuable history of the postwar era as seen through foreign eyes. 


For information about Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Daily Reports, please contact readexmarketing[at]readex[dot]com.

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