BBG Watch EXCLUSIVE Commentary

Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman Jeff Shell, Governor Ken Weinstein and CEO and Director John Lansing testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) on November 17, 2015.
Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman Jeff Shell, Governor Ken Weinstein and CEO and Director John Lansing testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) on November 17, 2015.

Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) new CEO John Lansing and his senior media executives strongly disavowed an article written by BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) audience research analyst Kim Andrew Elliott in which he argued against impact-driven news. In the article, “The Negative Impact of ‘Impact’,” on the USC Center on Public Diplomacy Blog, Kim Elliott wrote that news “written or produced to create a certain impact, it isn’t really news.” He called it “advocacy, or propaganda” and warned that the audience “will perceive it for what it is” and “point their browsers — elsewhere.”

The Negative Impact of ‘Impact’,” on the USC Center on Public Diplomacy’s  CPD Blog, February 1, 2016.

Former Voice of America acting associate director Ted Lipien commented for BBG Watch that any news worth seeking and all good journalism are in fact impact driven, such as journalists doing investigative reporting, exposing political corruption, identifying human rights abuses or correcting propaganda lies. There is no such thing as value neutral or impact neutral news unless journalists decide to hide their heads in the sand and start giving lies the same prominence as they give to what they know to be the truth.

Equal time for Mr. Putin is not exactly the best journalism.

“Mr. Elliott is crying wolf and accusing BBG of wanting to engage in propaganda, which no one is even considering or proposing,” Lipien said. “Mr. Elliott is also quite wrong that impact-driven news turns audiences away, when in fact the opposite has been true, both historically and now,” Lipien added. “In the 1980s during Solidarity trade union’s struggle for democracy in Poland, the VOA Polish Service rejected similar advice from Mr. Elliot and managed to multiply its audience without ever broadcasting false or misleading news,” Lipien said.

According to BBG Watch sources, BBG CEO John Lansing and executives of BBG media entities participating in a senior staff retreat also strongly disagreed with Mr. Elliott’s article and his conclusions. Lansing and BBG media executives are in complete agreement that impact is an all important driver in U.S. international media outreach. Some of them asked, according to sources, why U.S. taxpayers should even support the agency if there is no added value. Others pointed out that all major international broadcasters, including BBC, are committed to achieving an impact for their countries and definitely reflect their nations’ broad values.

Lansing and BBG media executives affirmed, according to sources, that in the world in which the United States and freedom in general are constantly under fire, BBG should do “true” journalism, but it must be “impact driven,” because that is what both audiences and U.S. taxpayers expect BBG to do. U.S. international media programs, including news, which have been designed for impact, such as Radio Free Europe broadcasts, have had the largest audiences, according to historical audience research data.

Ted Lipien, who is now co-director of the independent NGO Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – and also a co-founder and supporter of BBG Watch, left the following comment under Mr. Elliott’s article:

Mr. Elliott couldn’t be more wrong

Submitted by Ted Lipien on Wed, 02/03/2016 – 8:19am

“When I was put in charge of Voice of America Polish Service in the 1980s, I remember Mr. Elliott giving us the same advice. We did exactly the opposite of what he had recommended and VOA Polish Service audience multiplied from about 10% to more than 70% in a few short years. The problem was that like many of our VOA non-foreign-language-speaking colleagues, Mr. Elliott did not know our audience or what living under a communist regime was like. When VOA followed his preferred model for many years earlier it was being beaten in audience ratings by Radio Free Europe by wide margins. His argument is also somewhat simplistic and misleading. Seeking impact does not mean engaging in propaganda. But audiences living under extreme conditions do not want bland news. American taxpayers want BBG to focus on countries in extreme conditions. They don’t want to pay for another CNN International. Impact is indeed best measured long-term, but BBG would be wise to seek advice from experts who know their audiences.”

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