Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War Lost – Bluster
by The Federalist
The Congress has thrown a bone to the Broadcasting Board of Governors/International Broadcasting Bureau (BBG/IBB), modifying the Smith-Mundt Act (as a provision of a defense authorization bill) to facilitate dissemination of agency programs inside the United States.
This is something the agency has coveted for a while. Typically, the BBG press office can’t contain itself and has issued another gift – a press release dated January 3, 2013: “Passage of New Law Enhances Our Journalists’ Reach, Improves the Agency’s Use of Resources, Increases Transparency, BBG says.”
Well, we don’t see it that way.
For all the good citizens and third parties out there, let us consider who we are talking about here:
This is an agency of the US Government characterized as “the worst organization in the Federal Government.”
This is an agency of the US Government which has earned a reputation for being one of the worst places to work in the Federal Government.
Anything and everything this agency says about itself should be seen in the light of these two statements and actions surrounding these statements.
Why the Change in the Law?
The answer is simple: thanks to the agency’s “flim flam Soviet-style strategic plan,” the agency is shedding its audiences like water off a duck. The agency is barely keeping its head above water. Out of a global population of 7-billion, the agency is having a hard time holding onto about 175-million. Since we are using a water theme here, this amounts to a drop in the bucket, spread out over the global population. Keep in mind that this drop in the bucket is costing the American taxpayer close to $1-billion dollars annually.
That is money better spent things like Hurricane Sandy relief and reconstruction. We’re fairly certain most Americans would agree, particularly the folks up in New Jersey and New York states.
Going after a domestic US audience is the last stand for the charlatans on the Third Floor of the Cohen.
And more than likely, they will ultimately share the same fate as other “last stands,” like George Armstrong Custer and the 7th US Cavalry in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, without the lasting glory and immortality and a whole lot more ignominy.
But such is the megalomania on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building – an overblown and overstated sense of self-importance.
This last stand is an attempt to hold onto some audience, any audience, to justify the existence of the agency.
Let’s Talk About “Transparency”
When we saw the word “transparency” used in the heading of this BBG/IBB press release, we fell out of our chair laughing.
The very last thing the people in the Third Floor of the Cohen Building are interested in is transparency. Their entire modus operandi is about the absence of transparency, or at best, selective transparency.
But since they brought it up:
Here are two examples of how to hold the BBG/IBB to the transparency issue:
The American taxpayer is entitled to know how their money is being spent by government agencies, especially one with the horrid record established by this agency.
In that regard, let’s see the BBG publish the annual salaries and bonuses of its top officials. This would include people running the IBB, the Voice of America (VOA) and the entity heads of the agency’s grantees (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Radio Sawa and al-Hurra television, Radio/TV Marti). The American taxpayer is entitled to know and it is all public information.
And they may very well ask why we are rewarding these people based on the record they’ve established for themselves.
The next “transparency test” for the BBG/IBB is its so-called “Russia review,” involving the fiasco of its decisions regarding the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Russian service.
You know our position: this review should be conducted independent of the BBG and the IBB staff, composed of subject matter experts with no connection to the agency.
That’s the first part of the test.
The second part is to examine the review itself, which the BBG should post on the agency’s website. And it would have to be published in both English and Russian.
If the BBG wants transparency, it’s time to pony up with these two examples as leading efforts.
This is a BBG/IBB canard.
This change in the law is behind the curve of reality.
The agency has had Internet websites for years. These websites are accessible and have been accessible to Americans and generally anyone in open societies. Internet penetration in closed societies is more problematic – in addition to covert cyber warfare operations by closed or controlled societies. Some activities are pronounced, as in Russia, China, Iran and North Korea by way of examples. At the same time, the United Nations (UN) is considering a resolution allowing nations to control and/or regulate the Internet. Not surprisingly, leading that effort are the Chinese and the Russians.
On its face, what this law allows the agency to do is to make the American people the target audience for its programs.
We also know that Internet audience penetration has been and continues to be the weakest part of the agency’s program outreach. In reality, the change in the law, operationally, gains the agency little or nothing beyond what it already has.
And on top of that, let’s consider the obvious:
The agency is up against a whole lot of domestic and international websites available in the United States. They run the gamut: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, CNN, Associated Press, the BBC, Russia Today and a whole host of others.
We do not suggest that the agency not have websites.
(It’s a good way for BBG Watch to keep an eye on what these folks are doing.)
However, as reality has already demonstrated, it is far less conceivable that the agency is going to have a marked increase in its Internet traction or its program traction generally. That is the reality. And it is in the here and now.
For those Americans who may be interested, the agency’s program content, delivered via Internet or otherwise, is a situational tool; and depending on circumstances, it can often be a minor one. In terms of an American audience, one cannot see the agency’s efforts as being a primary go-to source for news and information.
And let us say clearly, this is not to denigrate the efforts of the working staff. It is more a reflection that the primary effort of the agency’s efforts and focus is international – even though some individuals inside the Cohen Building like to expound that “there is no more international broadcasting.”
Only in the Cohen Building, folks. And that attitude is how the place shoots itself in the foot.
The Larger Issue
We study and monitor the behavior of the agency very closely. Based on our experiences, the greater concern we have with this change in the law is the agency using it to engage in propaganda – the kind you see in its stream of press releases.
If you know the agency and its key players, you know that the name of the game being played is self-promotion. These people love to issue these press releases.
But there is a problem.
They don’t always tell the whole story.
For example, recently the agency issued a press release making a very big deal about a joint effort between Radio Farda (a US Government grantee service) and the VOA Persian News Network (PNN) establishing a new morning show into Iran.
Not many Americans outside the Iranian-American community care, but on its face, it sounds nice.
But therein rests the problem. The agency often chooses ways of describing things to create the appearance of positives and/or successes but not the substance of success.
What you don’t get from this press release are the challenges to getting programs into Iran.
The Iranians are not shy about their interdiction efforts. Indeed, the agency seems to forget context from one press release to another. In this case, a press release prior to the one discussed here expressed the agency’s anger toward the Iranians for blocking its satellite transmissions aimed at Iran.
If this new program is transmitted simultaneously on both radio and television, there is a chance that the program will get through – IF the radio program is direct broadcast via ground transmitters. However, if the radio program is also up on a satellite, forget it.
And of course, putting out a press release blowing your own horn also lets the Iranians know what you are doing.
These issues have always been out there. However, in the technology of the current day, delivery of programs to controlled societies is more problematic because countermeasures can be more finely tuned and are a whole lot more cost effective for the jammer. The footprint (a satellite channel) is a whole lot narrower than that of a radio signal beamed from a ground transmitter.
The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. In this case, the “pudding” is in the diminished audiences for agency programs. In part, the situation reflects successful efforts to block the agency’s programs. However, these societies are not sitting in neutral in terms of their own technological advances. With regard to China and Iran, they are developing their own Internet, setting up their own cyber networks as well as picking as choosing what external content they will allow their citizens to access – and this is now, ahead of whatever the United Nations ultimately comes up with in its resolutions. The difference is a UN resolution, if approved by its member nations, “legitimizes” those controls.
The End Result
Time is rapidly passing the agency by. As a result, the agency is becoming boxed into a corner. In this scenario, the only thing left is for the agency to create the appearance, not the fact, that it is having an impact.
But that’s not what we’re seeing.
There are too many negatives out there that speak to a much different reality. An agency openly described as “the worst organization in the Federal Government” and “one of the worst places to work in the Federal Government” is not a success story.
In the hands of people with this disposition, what we come to expect is a “marketing campaign” and one in which the goods being hawked may well be misinformation, disinformation or controlled, selective information – self-serving “propaganda” intended to benefit a handful of people running the agency, not to inform the American people.
Let the beholder beware.