Broadcasting Board of Governors Information War: Lost
The Never-Ending Downward Spiral
By The Federalist
Meet Matt Armstrong.
Member, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and sometime blogger at:
Governor Armstrong from time to time provides an interesting quote or two.
In the past, another BBG Governor correctly identified the agency’s “strategic plan” as “neither strategic nor a plan.” The BBG Governor was overwhelmingly correct. The agency, largely through its senior bureaucracy, has long been trafficking in catchy phrases to make it sound like it is actually doing something to enhance the agency’s mission effectiveness.
In reality, the result has been a resounding dud. The agency is nowhere, has been nowhere and is proceeding at full throttle to go nowhere.
It has lost its audiences, and above all impact, in the countries and the regions most critical to U.S. national security interests – and no one really seems to care. In today’s world, there are a multitude of choices among international broadcasters and others adept at deploying media with a broad variety of messages. It isn’t hard to find something to suit one’s taste and opinions wherever you may be.
Of course, not all of these participants have a friendly predisposition toward the United States.
But you would never come close to hearing the BBG or the BBG bureaucracy acknowledging this reality.
Consider the recent meeting of the BBG of June 23, 2016.
These meetings are the government bureaucracy’s version of a love fest.
Indeed, these people are really in love with themselves, their titles, their really out of this world view of themselves and what the agency is doing.
Which brings us back to Governor Armstrong.
In the course of a public session, Mr. Armstrong opined,
“We have no peer. BBC is not our peer. Deutsche Welle is not our peer. We are unique.”
Governor Armstrong is correct!
Among international broadcasters, the agency is without peer –
Because the agency has an outstanding record of diminished performance – including injecting personal biases into its so-called journalism. Voice of America (VOA) director Amanda Bennett has resorted to “anti-bias training” for the agency’s journalists. Bias equates with lack of trust, credibility and integrity.
The agency has no peer for other notable reasons. It is and remains:
- “Dysfunctional” (Heritage Foundation scholar Helle C. Dale)
- “Practically Defunct” (Hillary Clinton)
- “Broken” (US statesmen, diplomats, media experts and journalists interviewed by former BBG member S. Enders Wimbush and former Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty executive Elizabeth M. Portale)
- “Truly Rudderless” or Leaderless (Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce)
There you have it! The BBG’s Five Points of Acceptable Performance! Expanded and “improved” upon every day!
The end result:
- “This Broken Agency is Losing the Info War to ISIS & Putin,” House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Chairman Ed Royce, February 23, 2016.
This agency has become the pee-wee league of international broadcasting and multimedia outreach.
And obviously, it is proud of the distinction.
You can best believe when we read Governor Armstrong’s statement to some of our contacts, they were beside themselves with laughter.
They thought this was a joke.
Straight from Governor Armstrong.
Here’s another one:
It is a known fact that the BBG is intent upon abandoning traditional media, particularly radio. Television won’t be far behind. Radio and television will be replaced with short videos for those with a short attention span.
Across the board, in countries like China, Iran, and Cuba, the agency is being successfully blocked from providing foreign audiences with hard news content. In other countries, it relies on “placement” of soft, superfluous features and always subject to censorship regardless of the content at the point of reception.
Instead of being independently capable of delivering serious program content, the agency is now heavily dependent on foreign censors to allow their programming to be seen, heard and read.
Ditto with its social media applications. If Country “R” thinks that VOA content is politically inflammatory, it gets blocked.
This is really embarrassing. Of course, the agency’s bureaucrats are beyond being embarrassed. They are sticking to their guns because they cannot admit (a) how badly they have messed up and (b) explain all those cash awards they’ve been approving for themselves in the course of taking the agency down to rock bottom.
An agency that has to publicly acknowledge the need for “anti-bias training” for its journalists is in very deep trouble.
So what to do?
The answer: distraction.
The latest piece of distraction is offered by Governor Armstrong:
As our sources report, Governor Armstrong appears to favor the agency “empowering local media.” In his view, the agency should be focused less on “parachuting in” its own staffers to report newsworthy events but to “empower” local media to do it themselves.
Governor Armstrong is right in one respect. In many countries ruled by repressive and semi-repressive regimes, these small, underfunded independent media outlets and bloggers have a far greater audience and influence than the Voice of America with its $224 million budget. This is true in Russia for both VOA and RFE/RL. Meduza and Rain TV are successful because they are being perceived in Russia as both local and independent, although Meduza is now based to some degree abroad. They are successful because they are surrogate media to state media, which RFE/RL once was but is no longer under the constantly expanding control and micromanagement by the Washington-based BBG bureaucracy.
There are many other things wrong with Governor Armstrong’s idea.
First and foremost, it would constitute the end of VOA-sourced news reporting and relying on local media – and should we say, the kaleidoscope of what constitutes local media depending on the locality.
Governor Armstrong seems to think that world media is respected and protected by an extension of the First Amendment of the US Constitution and that independent media, if there is any left in repressive states, are able and eager to present and explain the policies of the United States and U.S. domestic discussions on those policies. Even if they don’t do any of the things that the VOA Charter requires the Voice of America to do, which they won’t, they will continue to be busted for their independent reporting. Accepting foreign government money and grants will make it easier for local regimes to prosecute independent journalists and throw them in jail.
Not that these journalists don’t deserve all the help they can get, but direct help from the U.S. government and the Broadcasting Board of Governors is dangerous for the recipients in various countries. They can even be busted for accepting journalism training and for contacts with BBG staff if Mr. Putin so desires. Such training is best done by independent NGOs, not by the BBG. BBG resources would be better spent on making its own surrogate broadcasters and the Voice of America better managed and more effective in pursuing their separate missions. Perhaps someone should ask Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reporter Khadija Ismayilova how the independent media are viewed in other parts of the world. As you will recall, Ms. Ismayilova was thrown in prison by authorities in Azerbaijan following some of her reporting. She has recently been released – likely no thanks to the BBG bureaucracy.
You can see where these bureaucrats are going: they will attempt to justify the agency’s continued existence by providing training to foreign journalist so that they will then be “empowered,” no doubt to take the lives in their hands by reporting on dicey subject matter in the home country.
You’ve got to be kidding.
But with these bureaucrats, they can claim success by providing training – regardless of the consequences to the journalists afterward.
Of course, once again we have to remember that this is the agency that has to do “anti-bias training” for its own journalists.
The real outcome of all this is the agency living up to being “one of the worst agencies in the Federal government.”
They are firmly anchored in this category.
At some juncture, the Congress will figure out exactly how the end this nonsense.
It can’t come soon enough.