International Broadcasting Bureau – Defining Success By Being Dysfunctional and Defunct – Information War Lost: The Master Practitioner
By The Federalist
How meanings turn on a word:
According to the agency’s April 11, 2014 press release (“BBG Reviews Its Operations In Asia, Discusses Foreign Policy Priority Items”), one item in the April meeting was noted as follows:
“The Board then discussed broadcasting to Iran, with an update from IBB Director of Global Strategy Robert Bole, who noted that according to recent survey research, U.S. international media has a larger audience than any other international broadcaster. The Board voted on its broadcasting strategy to Iran, adopting a resolution to harmonize RFE/RL and VOA efforts in order to maximize the impact of its Persian-language programming to this strategically important country.”
This led a lot of people to question what the press release was referencing – larger audiences in general, or specific to Iran?
The word must have gotten back to the IBB because several days later the press release was slightly modified:
“The Board then discussed broadcasting to Iran, with an update from IBB Director of Global Strategy Robert Bole, who noted that according to recent survey research, U.S. international media has a larger audience there [Emphasis added.] than any other international broadcaster. The Board voted on its broadcasting strategy to Iran, adopting a resolution to harmonize RFE/RL and VOA efforts in order to maximize the impact of its Persian-language programming to this strategically important country.”
We look at context, not one sentence “taken in isolation.”
Whether sins of omission or commission, readers must be wary of these press releases.
In light of these creative press releases, it is difficult to believe that the agency has the audience it claims, in Iran or anywhere else. As with anything related to survey data generated by the Third Floor of the Cohen Building, it comes down to the survey questions, answers to the questions, and how the responses are grouped.
We have become accustomed to the agency’s oversized claims of audience and success. Neither seems to hold up very well when scrutinized. For example:
One thing that stands out in our analysis of the agency’s FY2014 and proposed FY2015 budget is the continuing rollback of the agency’s broadcast operations. There have been suggestions that there may be cuts to funding and programming for the Voice of America’s (VOA) Persian News Network (PNN), with a larger role for the US Government grantee broadcasts of Radio Farda, what the agency calls “harmonizing” (yet another agency oxymoron) in its press release.
Eliminating broadcast language services as the IBB intends or expects in the FY 2014 and FY 2015 budget scenarios is not conducive to the business of audience growth, especially in places like Iran in which media is heavily controlled.
Remember too what Andre Mendes said in a February 20, 2014 staff meeting: the agency “needs to be as lean as possible.”
“Lean” does not equate with a robust broadcast operation.
As one of our best sources remarked, “The agency is going to get very small, very fast.”
And Of Course, The Russians
We have often noted that US Government broadcasting has become something of an “inside-the-Cohen-Building” exercise, with little effectiveness beyond the four walls of this Federal building on Independence Avenue in Washington, DC.
Case in point, the IBB entertained the Board with a panel discussion, made up of agency elements on the subject of Ukraine. Among other things,
“Panelists discussed their work in the region and emphasized the urgent need to expose corruption, to counter Russian propaganda with unbiased news, and the importance of video journalism in engaging audiences.”
But wait a minute! What is the reality?
The Voice of America (VOA) has no radio broadcasts in Russia or directed to Russia, most of it killed off in 2008 and the job being finished now in 2014. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is hanging on in Russia but just barely until new laws take effect in Russia in the near future.
With broadcasts being knocked out of the equation, the next step for Mr. Putin is to cut off agency Internet content targeted for Russian audiences. Mr. Putin’s intent is clear: not to leave anything unaddressed that he believes to be contrary to Russian interests.
And don’t even dream that he’ll leave agency television broadcasts uncovered.
Like we said: it helps a whole bunch when the IBB/BBG facilitated the Russians’ strategy by cutting its broadcasts to Russia in 2008. It could have continued broadcasting on shortwave, medium wave (AM) from countries like Lithuania, on Internet, and satellite TV. Instead, IBB recommended terminating all VOA direct radio and satellite television news programs to Russia and later tried to end RFE/RL radio as well. In essence, the agency marginalized itself then and has made itself irrelevant now, in Russia and elsewhere.
The agency’s broadcast strategy to Russia: call it FAILURE.
“I realized that in every situation, whether I was right or wrong, I had to be strong. I had to be able to answer back.” (Putin speaking to a biographer as appears in “Putin’s thinking keeps Westerners guessing,” Marc Bennetts, The Washington Times, April 14, 2014)
“We don’t know what game he’s playing, much less his strategy. That’s why he’s (Putin’s) outplaying us.” (Clifford Gady, The Brookings Institution, also in The Washington Times article of April 14, 2014)
Compare this to the Obama administration policy of “leading from behind.”
You shouldn’t be betting the mortgage that the IBB/BBG is a match for Mr. Putin, on any level. Unlike the IBB/BBG, we have a healthy respect for a formidable adversary. Mr. Putin is a trained professional. He makes the Obama administration and the IBB/BBG look like rank amateurs. And generally speaking, in this contest as in others, they are. We don’t intend to demean the resumes of BBG members. They are impressive. Unfortunately, in present circumstances, they don’t seem to count for a whole lot in Mr. Putin’s playbook.
Forget all the posturing by the IBB/BBG. Mr. Putin knows how to fight and he expects to win. In so many words, Mr. Putin is elevating Russian national interests to top priority. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who is familiar with the Russians or their history. They’ve been intimately engaged with the United States in geopolitical chess play since 1776.
Unlike the historically oblivious IBB, Mr. Putin knows the historical record and knows that weakness betrays Russian national interests. He prefers to deal from a position of strength.
And the other lesson to be learned: he is setting the example for others in the geopolitical world who want to turn off the spurious and inconsequential IBB/BBG babble.
One Bright Side
The BBG meeting also included a review of the agency’s broadcasting to Asia, particularly Radio Free Asia (RFA).
In an agency that is dysfunctional and defunct, RFA may be one agency element that isn’t travelling with the rest of the herd.
RFA president Libby Liu and her staff should be commended for their efforts. Ms. Liu has her detractors on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building, among the usual IBB suspects. However, she also has her supporters in and outside the Cohen Building. Success, expanded and improved upon, is the best way for Ms. Liu and her staff to neutralize the naysayers on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.
Let’s leave you with one more remark that was part of the narrative in the Washington Times piece. It was made by Vladimir Putin when appointed as Russian prime minister under Boris Yeltsin,
“Russia has been a great power for centuries…and it remains one.”
While a small, but essential part in a much larger historical drama, Mr. Putin has crushed the IBB/BBG.
We get it. We’ve studied the man and his tactics.
There are lessons to be learned here. But absent requisite knowledge and acumen, the IBB prefers the bliss of being boldly ignorant. They have made the agency what it is:
Dysfunctional and defunct.