BBG's Bruce Sherman, Director, Office of Strategy and Development, speaking to empty chairs
BBG's Bruce Sherman, Director, Office of Strategy and Development, speaking to empty chairs


Broadcasting Board of Governors Information War Lost: A Thousand Words in a Picture
by The Federalist


(We are also reminded of a Rod Stewart album from years ago, “Every Picture Tells a Story.”  This is the story we see in this picture.)


Once again, the Broadcasting Board of Governors/International Broadcasting Bureau (BBG/IBB) provides us with another gift.

Below is a BBG/IBB press release dated November 8, 2012: “In Zimbabwe, Satellite Dishes Are Widespread And New Media Are Growing Rapidly.”

Please note the photo accompanying the press release.  It plays an important role in this commentary.


Pictured are two unidentified women and Bruce Sherman of the IBB, the point man for the agency’s “flim flam strategic plan.”


Mr. Sherman doesn’t make the picture.  What does is a row of empty chairs across the front of the room for one of Mr. Sherman’s well known PowerPoint presentations, the accompaniment to his monologue narrative.

One of the first rules of press release pictures: never show a room with empty chairs.  It conveys an impression:

Lack of interest.

Apparently, there isn’t a whole lot of interest in the subject matter: “In Zimbabwe, Satellite Dishes Are Widespread And New Media Are Growing Rapidly.”

Second rule of press releases: timing.  What are Americans interested in right now?  The answer is pretty simple: the recent national election, the possibility of a whole lot of serious economic repercussions arising from a potential government budget sequestration, the destruction brought to the northeast United States from Hurricane Sandy.  They’re not much interested in the BBG/IBB’s latest press release, something disconnected from the daily realities confronting American citizens.

But there are things which we need to make note of:


BBG/IBB Research


This presentation by Mr. Sherman is in conjunction with the Gallup polling organization.  You will note that the BBG/IBB let a contract for $50 million dollars spread out over 5 years at $10-million dollars a pop annually.  People wonder what this contract is supposed to produce.  This press release is one answer.

Let’s be clear, we aren’t picking an issue with the Gallup organization.  It is doing polling research as directed by the BBG/IBB.  It’s easy money for Gallup.

But it is a waste of American taxpayer dollars.

What we see in this BBG/IBB-directed research has little to do with US Government strategic communications, the national or the public interest.  It has more to do with the self-interest of the IBB.  Perhaps the more appropriate term is the self-preservation of IBB bureaucrats.  Their Soviet-style five-year flim flam strategic plan has left US Government international broadcasting in ruins.  As we see it, in order to divert attention from the fiascos it has perpetrated upon the American taxpayer, the IBB is now engaged in diversionary tactics in subject matter that has little global strategic value.

While the BBG/IBB is dallying in the obtuse, there are much more serious issues afoot around the world; and the BBG/IBB has marginalized the US Government’s ability to communicate with global publics on those issues.


Free-Fall off the Strategic Communications Cliff


The United States Government is no longer a major player in strategic international broadcasting.  This press release makes that clear.

While the BBG/IBB is dabbling in the subject of this press release, here are things that are going on of significant importance:


In Russia, the Putin government is preparing to take on the United States over the US strategic missile defense deployment.  The Putin government sees the US Government as weak.  It has scored a major victory in the realm of strategic communications by watching Steve Korn, the president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) destroy its robust Russian Service of Radio Liberty.  It has long ago seen the demise of the Voice of America (VOA) Russian Service.  Skillful chess players as the Russians are, they are now moving more powerful pieces into play to deal with the United States and protect Russian interests.  One can see Vladimir Putin, the iconic Russian leader and former KGB agent with that ironic half-smile (or smirk).  He gets it.  He knows what Korn and the BBG/IBB have done.  He has the initiative and he won’t surrender it easily or cheaply.


In China, the Party Congress is electing its next decade of leadership.  Of course, the BBG/IBB has systematically destroyed its radio broadcasts to China.  The BBG/IBB thinks the Internet will save the day!  However, the Chinese have successfully neutralized the BBG/IBB on this score by effectively blocking BBG/IBB websites and establishing its own Internet infrastructure.


(Note: The November 9, 2012 online edition of Foreign Policy Magazine reports that there are self-immolations taking place in Tibet as the Chinese Communist Party holds its Party Congress to elect new leadership.)


The Middle East


How are you “Arab Springers” doing?  Here’s how:

Libya is on the cusp of being a failed state with well-armed militias running around the country, who by the way refer to themselves as “revolutionaries,” and “liberators;”

In Egypt recently, one of those angry, almost all-male crowds in Tahrir Square raped another Western female journalist, this one from France;

In Lebanon, a top intelligence officer was assassinated, some believe by Hezbollah;

In the widening civil war in Syria, Israel has responded to mortar fire from Syria twice this past weekend with its own counter-battery fire, once as a warning but the second time onto dedicated targets.

In Iran, always those pesky Iranians.  Guess what they did this past week?  Iranian military aircraft fired on a US drone (they have already captured/recovered one virtually intact).  The United States claims that the drone fired upon was in international airspace.  Well, maybe.  But the fact is the Iranians just rearranged the chessboard in the Persian Gulf.  They’ve upped the ante.  They’re taking what opportunities present themselves to study US tactics in evading Iranian aircraft and in turn refining their attack techniques against unarmed drones.  If the Iranians get good at it, the US might have to consider arming the drones with air-to-air missiles.

And lest we forget, there is the Iranian Cyber Army waiting in the wings with whatever they are planning as the next demonstration of their capabilities in cyber-warfare against the BBG/IBB and other US cyber targets.


That Warm and Fuzzy Feeling


If you are an intelligence analyst for any of the Big Three mentioned above, as well as others, looking at this press release has to make you feel good.

Very, very good.

While the BBG/IBB is off in a wilderness of its own making, you can feel very good knowing that their escapades belie a deeper meaning.  The United States is no longer a major player in international communications with global publics.  You have routed the United States on this front.  The Russians have the top YouTube news site with “Russia Today.”  The Chinese have state-of-the-art news bureaus in Washington and New York (the Washington one looking down – literally and figuratively – from its vantage point in DC’s Chinatown across the National Mall to the Cohen Building).  The Iranians are making inroads with Spanish-language broadcasts to Latin America.  Life is good!  The self-serving careerists of the IBB are like putty to be molded, manipulated, formed,

And flattened.

Best of all, your countermeasures blocking satellite programs and controlling the Internet seem to be working very well.  You are continuing to expand, refine and improve upon your capabilities.

You know that the BBG/IBB is foolish, inept and stupid.

These are good times.  The technologies of today favor those with a bold vision and the ability to defeat those – like the BBG/IBB – who require an open media environment, rather than the controlled one at your disposal.  Plus, you have the discipline, resolve and resources to get the job done.


Ignorance is Bliss!


The BBG/IBB likes to talk about the proliferation of new technologies.

But wait!

Cited in the press release as countries where this new technology is taking off are places like Iran, Burma, Indonesia and Tibet.

Excuse me?!?

None of these countries are what one would consider media free-for-alls.  Iran jams satellites carrying foreign news broadcasts including those of the BBG/IBB.  Burma is still ruled by a military junta which can clamp down on the press, foreign and domestic, at any time.  Tibet – you’ve got to be kidding.  The Chinese have tight control over media there and elsewhere in its territories. And Indonesia has laws on the books prohibiting the dissemination of foreign news broadcasts.

In short, in the examples the BBG/IBB cites these countries now or at any future moment interdict these new technologies when and if they believe their national interests are jeopardized.  This is the inherent vulnerability of these new technologies.  They are wholly dependent upon a favorable in-country political climate that is willing to be receptive to IBB programs.  If you don’t direct broadcast, you lose.

Plus, the presence of these new technologies does not mean that most people want BBG/IBB content.  Domestic content is often, if not normally, the first choice, for obvious reasons.  It pays to know what’s going on in your own backyard, as opposed to what comes to you from the la-la land of the Cohen Building.


IBB Pickpockets


No doubt the IBB wants to sell to the Congress the idea of funding new initiatives that it dreams up.  On that subject,

Congress needs to be clear that the IBB has undermined the effectiveness of US Government international broadcasting by cutting programs and becoming reliant upon technologies that are vulnerable.

More than that, the United States faces serious economic challenges.  Money is needed elsewhere for important domestic priorities, including the disaster delivered on the northeast United States by Hurricane Sandy.

The BBG/IBB has not made a compelling case that its handling of US Government international broadcasting is effective and is worthy of continued funding.

It is time for the Congress to stop treating US Government international broadcasting as a billion dollar write-off of American taxpayer dollars.

Either fix it or close it (transfer its functions to another agency with real management).

The proof is in the picture – a press conference to an empty room, on a topic that no one is interested in, with no resonance or value to the American taxpayer.

This is what the BBG/IBB is all about.


The Federalist

November 2012



In Zimbabwe, Satellite Dishes Are Widespread And New Media Are Growing Rapidly

In Zimbabwe, Satellite Dishes Are Widespread And New Media Are Growing Rapidly


NOVEMBER 8, 2012
Bruce Sherman, Director, Office of Strategy and Development, BBGBruce Sherman, Director, Office of Strategy and Development, BBG

Word of mouth and radio remain the primary sources of receiving news and information in Zimbabwe, but satellite ownership and the use of mobile devices to access the Internet are growing rapidly, according to new data issued by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and Gallup.

“Even youth are still turning to radio to get the news on a regular basis,” said Jenna Levy, Consulting Specialist, Gallup, “though they are more likely also to use new media.”

About 6 in 10 Zimbabweans say they have a working radio in their home (59.8%), and half have a working television (47.2%). Mobile phones, by far the most popular platform for accessing the Internet in Zimbabwe, are even more prevalent, with 75.6% reporting that they have a mobile phone in their household. In urban areas, mobile penetration approaches 100%.

Read the Research Brief
View the Presentation

“The notion that Zimbabwe is a radio-only market is outdated,” said Sonja Gloeckle, Africa Research Analyst, International Broadcasting Bureau, adding that “new media helps us reach out directly to people in Zimbabwe”

For the past several years, Zimbabwe has been a leader in Sub-Saharan Africa for satellite dish ownership, and this trend has further intensified. About two-thirds of Zimbabwean television owners say their TVs receive its signal via an individual satellite dish (65.8%) or shared satellite dish (2.0%), while a similar percentage (68.2%) use an antenna. TV has become a key means of reaching urban Zimbabweans, with nearly half watching television at 8 p.m. and just 7 percent listen to the radio at that time.

Past-week Internet use has more than doubled in the past year, standing now at 22 percent, and 9 in 10 regular Internet users go online through a mobile phone. Three quarters of regular Internet users name Facebook among their top three websites for news and information.

More than 8 in 10 of Zimbabweans who have their own mobile phones or have access to one (85.1%) say they used their phone to send an SMS/text message in the last week. Approximately one in four users accessed the Internet (25.6%), accessed Facebook or other social media (24.3%) or listened to the radio (24.1%) on their phones.

The BBG’s global audience research program is conducted in partnership with Gallup. The data on Zimbabwe, like that on Iran, Tibet, Burma, Nigeria and Indonesia released earlier this year, shows how communications technologies are evolving even as traditional broadcasts in TV and radio continue to play a significant role in news distribution. This research informs the current and future operations of the agency’s broadcasts in 59 languages to more than 100 countries.