David Satter on reforming U.S. media outreach to Russia

BBG Watch EXCLUSIVE

In an exclusive interview with BBG Watch, U.S. journalist, author and Russia expert David Satter said that “Western broadcasting, having limited resources, should be aimed at the intellectual elite” among Russian-speaking audiences.

“But to appeal to that elite, its coverage must be based on genuine learning about Russian and Soviet history and the fundamental differences in mentality between Russia and the West,” Satter added.

BBG Watch discussed with David Satter what could be done to reform and improve U.S. international media outreach which is now managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

“For a country that is as spiritually damaged as Russia, what matters is the message,” Satter explained. “Russians need to see a democratic, Western view of the world that they can compare with the propagandistic view of reality presented to them by state TV.”

“If RL and the VOA get the content right, members of the generation born after the end of the Cold War can help get the message across on Facebook and Twitter,” Satter said.

He warned, however that “failing to perfect the message or compromising it to meet the requirements of technology” could be disastrous.

Satter believes that to be successful, the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) “need to be kept separate and to preserve their separate identities.”

In response to the question how VOA and RL can counter the Kremlin’s false historical narrative, David Satter noted the upcoming 25th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union and the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power. He recommended publication of memoirs and historical documents as well as interviews with key participants and observers of historical events, but also noted that “the history of post-Soviet Russia is replete with crimes that cry out for serious historical examination.”

David Satter’s latest book, “The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin” was published in May 2016 by Yale University Press.

Poland’s former Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski wrote in a review: “‘The Less You Know, the Better you Sleep’ is an uncompromising, cogent, disturbing account of a country whose authorities’ nihilism may yet lead it to disaster.”

In December 2013, David Satter became the first American journalist to be expelled from Russia since the Cold War. At the time, he was working as a consultant for RFE/RL. The Moscow Times said it was not surprising he was expelled, “it was surprising it took so long.” Satter is known in Russia for having written that the apartment bombings in 1999, which were blamed on Chechens and brought Putin to power, were actually carried out by the Russian FSB security police.

David Satter is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a fellow of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. His previous books, all published by Yale University Press, include “Darkness at Dawn.”

He has been interviewed by BBC, VOA, and RFE/RL on Russia-related topics numerous times.

Satter believes that the Voice of America should not waste resources on trying to reach U.S.-based audiences. “VOA should concentrate on presenting the U.S. to the world instead of presenting the U.S. to the U.S,” Satter stressed.

 

 
DAVID SATTER: “As far as the BBG is concerned, I think that it is important to bear in mind the nature of public diplomacy which involves influencing people whose value systems are very different from ours. This is a formidable intellectual enterprise. It is not necessarily best carried out by people who have made successful careers in our system and it’s not something that can be engaged in part time.”
 

 
Commenting on U.S. public diplomacy efforts by the State Department, Satter offered a bleak assessment.

 

 
DAVID SATTER: “The State Department could show the moral roots of American policies and the Western democratic system. But for us to have people in high positions in the State Department who were capable of doing that, we would have to be a different country.”
 

 
“We need to influence the outside world and not remain passive in the face of the spread of pernicious ideas that could literally kill us,” David Satter told BBG Watch.
 

READ FULL BBG WATCH INTERVIEW WITH DAVID SATTER

 
David Satter was interviewed by Ted Lipien. He is journalist, author, former VOA acting associate director, and one of the co-founders and supporters of BBG Watch. He also co-founded with Ann Noonan the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB.org), an independent and non-partisan NGO which strives to improve governance and impact of U.S. government-funded media for overseas audiences.
 
 
 

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