The new director of the Voice of America said yesterday he intended to "make clear, professional journalistic distinctions between news and editorials" as he shapes the program content of the government's embattled overseas broadcasting agency.

For much of its history, and especially since the onset of the Reagan administration, the "Voice" has been at the center of a debate between those who believe it should become more frankly propaganda-oriented and those who think it should adhere to the neutral standards of journalism.

John Hughes, 51, a Pulitzer-prize winning former editor at the Christian Science Monitor, told a breakfast meeting of reporters yesterday that he saw no inherent tension in those two missions as long as they are kept fully separated and carefully labeled.

"We intend to report the news fully and fairly, with no bias in it," he said. "That is part of our charter."

The other two components of the Voice's 40-year old charter are to convey the broad spectrum of American opinion on current affairs, and to articulate the foreign policy of the United States as clearly as possible.

Hughes likened those different roles to the differences between the front page, editorial page and op-ed page of a newspaper.

Hughes' appointment came in the midst of a period of intense bureaucratic and ideological infighting at the agency. He replaced James Conkling, who started out as a hero to the New Right but later became a target of its criticism in the conservative weekly, Human Events, for allegedly forcing out a man he had recruited to the Voice, Philip Nicolaides.

Nicolaides had made a name for himself by penning a memo in which he called for the agency to abandon its "tendency toward mush" and to portray the Soviet Union as the "last great predatory empire on earth." He subsequently became the target of a staff petition calling for his ouster.