Undersecretary Stengel Visits RFE/RL Kyiv Bureau — Importance of U.S.-funded Surrogate Media Acknowledged

BBG Watch Commentary

U.S. Under Secretary of State Richard Stengel (frame-grab) - Ruslan Deynychenko/VOA Ukrainian

U.S. Under Secretary of State Richard Stengel (frame-grab) – Ruslan Deynychenko/VOA Ukrainian

It is good to see a high level U.S. State Department official, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, acknowledge the importance of the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) surrogate broadcasters, specifically Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Not too long ago, their future as surrogate media outlets was being questioned and their independence threatened by the Washington bureaucracy centered within the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). Washington bureaucrats wanted to put surrogate broadcasters under their central control, having already undermined much of their independence. Their idea, reflecting a longstanding belief in the end of history despite continuous new evidence to the contrary, was to create a generic “Global News Network.” In their view, surrogate media was the thing of the past, a relic of the Cold War. BBG board has recently made personnel changes at IBB and put in a new three-person interim management team.

As former IBB executives stood idly by, RFE/RL’s role as a surrogate broadcaster was nearly destroyed in 2012. But thanks to BBG Watch investigative reporting and intervention of some BBG members, as well as behind the scenes efforts by Ms. Tara Sonenshine, Mr. Richard Stengel’s predecessor as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, RFE/RL’s management was replaced and the media outlet’s effectiveness and reputation were restored.

RFE/RL Ukrainian Service posted online a multimedia news story, Зараз немає важливішої політики, ніж та, яка стосується України – заступник держсекретаря США, RFE/RL Ukrainian Service, May 13, 2014, with video and quotes.

Voice of America Ukrainian Service interview with Richard Stengel

VOA Ukrainian Service produced a high quality multimedia report on the Stengel interview, offering both video, introduced by Myroslava Gongadze, and a transcript. It was a substantive interview. Якщо росіяни перешкоджатимуть виборам, будуть певні наслідки – заступник держсекретаря США, VOA Ukrainian Service, May 13, 2014.

Unfortunately, because Voice of America did not turn the interview with Richard Stengel into a separate news report in English with video, it meant that the vast majority of VOA language services did not report on it. Fortunately, VOA Russian Service did have a report, Госдепартамент: если РФ вмешается в выборы в Украине, то последуют новые санкции Ричард Стенгел: «Мы надеемся, что вмешательства не будет», VOA Russian Service, May 13, 2014. The VOA Russian Service report was not as extensive as the VOA Ukrainian Service report and did not include a video, but it was good to see that at least one other VOA language service reported on the Stengel interview.

While VOA English News did not produce a separate report with video on the Stengel visit to Kyiv and his interview with VOA Ukrainian Service, it did add a news segment about it into another news report from Ukraine. Due to poor management, VOA English News has developed a habit of adding various additional new material to news reports, some of which may already be outdated and ignored by online readers. This poor practice means that international audiences are not as likely to notice a particular piece of news information as they would if VOA would produce separate news reports on separate topics and post them separately on the VOA English news website.

VOA ENGLISH NEWS

Top US official in Kyiv

Meanwhile, Richard Stengel, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, voiced strong U.S. support for elections in Ukraine, saying Russia could face more sanctions if it attempts to disrupt the vote.

U.S. Under Secretary of State Richard Stengel (frame-grab) - Ruslan Deynychenko/VOA Ukrainian

U.S. Under Secretary of State Richard Stengel (frame-grab) – Ruslan Deynychenko/VOA Ukrainian

“We want to help foster a free and fair election in any way we can,” Stengel said in an interview with VOA’s Ukrainian Service during a visit to Kyiv.

He said the U.S. looks warily at what Russia might do in eastern Ukraine during the election, stressing that both President Barack Obama and Kerry have urged Moscow not to interfere.

If it interferes, Stengel said the U.S. might consider imposing stricter or even sectoral sanctions.

Stengel also took issue with what he called the “Russian propaganda machine” distorting the real picture in Ukraine.

Moscow’s efforts need to be countered, he said: “You have to combat lies with the truth, you have to combat fiction with reality, and that is something we are trying to do.”

Stengel is also due to visit Brussels and Riga, Latvia, as part of U.S. efforts to foster greater regional engagement in support of Ukraine’s election, according to a State Department release.

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BBG PRESS RELEASE

Undersecretary Stengel Visits RFE/RL Kyiv Bureau

MAY 13, 2014

U/S Stengel (right) speaking with Kyiv Bureau staffers including (l-r) Andriy Tkachuk, Yana Polyanska (seated), Olena Removska, Oleksandr Lashchenko (background), and Chief Editor Inna Kuznetsova. Credit: RadioSvoboda.org (RFE/RL)

U/S Stengel (right) speaking with Kyiv Bureau staffers including (l-r) Andriy Tkachuk, Yana Polyanska (seated), Olena Removska, Oleksandr Lashchenko (background), and Chief Editor Inna Kuznetsova. Credit: RadioSvoboda.org (RFE/RL)

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel visited the journalists and staff at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kyiv Bureau today during his trip to the region. Stengel is traveling to Ukraine, Latvia and Belgium to encourage greater regional support for Ukraine’s upcoming May 25 elections.

During his visit to the bureau, Stengel congratulated Ukrainian Service journalists for their hard work and quality reporting despite the increasingly dangerous reporting environment, and he responded to questions from staff in both Kyiv and Prague. He also sat down for an interview, during which he discussed current U.S. diplomatic relations with Russia and explained how the United States plans to support Ukraine’s early presidential election. Earlier in the day he did an interview with VOA Ukrainian Service reporter, Ruslan Deynychenko, to talk about the upcoming elections on and how the US is trying to fight Russian propaganda through its commitment to a free press.

As the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Stengel provides global strategic leadership for all Department of State public diplomacy and public affairs engagement. Stengel also represents Secretary of State John Kerry, who is an ex officio member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, to the board.

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