NYT got it wrong on VOA being a Cold War relic

BBG Watch Commentary

In a news analysis article, “What Options Does the U.S. Have After Accusing Russia of Hacks?,” New York Times reporters David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth quote Michael J. Morell, a former deputy director of the C.I.A. and advisor to Hillary Clinton as advocating “deep sanctions on the entire Russian economy and an ‘aggressive Voice of America program in Russian to tell the Russian people that Putin is only interested in his own aggrandizement’ and is threatening the only hope for the country’s economy: integration with the West.”

The New York Times article then continues with this observation:

 

 

NEW YORK TIMES: “And Voice of America programs, a relic of the Cold War, are slow to work, if they can work at all in the internet age.”

 

 

READ MORE: What Options Does the U.S. Have After Accusing Russia of Hacks?, David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth, The New York Times, October 8, 2016.

 

The New York Times got it partly wrong. U.S. taxpayer-funded ($224 million in FY 2017) Voice of America (VOA) is a relic, but it is not a relic of the Cold War. It is a relic of the “practically defunct” Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency ($777 in FY 2017) which has been responsible for the mismanagement and misdirection of the Voice of America since 1995 when the first voting members of the BBG were confirmed. The BBG became an independent agency on October 1, 1999. The BBG has been in charge of VOA for nearly 20 years. Today’s VOA is mismanaged, its U.S. election coverage reports are biased, it produces sloppy fluff videos, as shown in a screenshot below, but it is nothing like VOA was during the Cold War.

Screenshot from Voice of America video

Screenshot from Voice of America video

It is unfair to the Voice of America to call it a relic of the Cold War, especially since VOA did extremely well during most of the Cold War. VOA then used the right medium for program delivery suitable for the technology of the period. It had a well-defined mission and an enormous audience in East Central Europe, in the Soviet Union and in many other regions of the world. While the Voice of America was not managed as well as Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, VOA was run by highly-trained professionals as opposed to current top BBG and VOA executives who lack experience in international affairs, intercultural communications, U.S. foreign policy and U.S. public diplomacy.

Had VOA been managed the same way for the last twenty years under the Broadcasting Board of Governors as during the Cold War under the United States Information Agency (USIA), it could have easily adapted to the Internet age and would have been effective against Kremlin’s propaganda and disinformation. It was Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and herself an ex officio member of the BBG board who in 2013 described the agency as “practically defunct.”

By the way, now that the White House has formally accused Russia, as the New York Times article put it, “of meddling in the presidential election with cutting-edge cyberattacks and age-old information warfare,” it is worth noting that in July the Voice of America was casting doubts that Russia was behind Democrats’ emails leak. VOA also had cast doubts earlier that North Korea was behind the Sony hack. It both cases, VOA was contradicted by the White House.
 

READ MORE: Voice of America casts doubts Russia was behind Democrats’ emails leak, BBG Watch, July 27, 2016

 
 
 

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