International Broadcasting Bureau – The Standard For Dysfunctional and Defunct in the US Government – Information War Lost: Freedom of Speech Abridged
by The Federalist
“Imitation is the sincerest of flattery.”
-Charles Caleb Cotton (1780-1832)
BBG Watch has established itself as a powerful observer of US Government international broadcasting. With over 2 MILLION cumulative hits, BBG Watch continues its service as an accountability project, commenting upon the operations of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and especially its most dysfunctional, most powerful and constantly growing bureaucratic entity — the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).
BBG Watch’s record for online success and IBB’s record for failure, including failures in audience engagement through social media, are hard to ignore and even harder to dismiss.
The BBG Watch website is run by a group of volunteer contributors who receive no compensation for their participation in providing global publics with commentary on this official activity of the US Government and one that is intended to reach them directly with both reliable news along with examination and explanation of US policies.
Recently, BBG Watch was subjected to a serious, deliberate cyber attack and had to rebuild its website. Thanks to hard work of volunteers, the site was down less than a day after it was hacked, but some of the older posts have not yet been restored. BBG Watch is now using its domain name bbgwatch.com. Usgbroadcasts.com now directs to bbgwatch.com.
Users, however, may experience problems locating some of the older articles under the old domain name. The good news is that the site is working again and volunteers are doing research and posting new articles daily.
Since BBG Watch does not engage in financial activities which would be attractive to cyber criminal organizations, one must surmise that the attack was intended to be disruptive of the website’s editorial content. It was a second such deliberate attack in recent months.
It has yet to be determined where the attack originated. Across a broad spectrum, the attack could have been originated from a foreign or domestic source, but it could have been easily ordered by someone in the United States.
However, one thing is obvious: some person or persons are hot and bothered by BBG Watch commentary.
To paraphrase Charles Caleb Cotton’s remark noted above (famously rendered long before the establishment of international broadcasting or the Internet):
“Cyber attack is the sincerest response to effectiveness.”
And indeed, this is clearly the case with regard to BBG Watch.
This cyber attack also serves to make global publics conscious of the fact that threats to freedom of speech are not limited to countries or regions where press freedom is either severely threatened or altogether nonexistent. It can also occur or be directed against journalists and NGOs within the boundaries of the United States.
This cyber attack, while temporarily disruptive to the BBG Watch website, does not lessen the resolve of BBG Watch volunteers and contributors, many of them current and former BBG-employed journalists, in pursuit of accountability for this agency which annually spends nearly $1-BILLION dollars of American taxpayer money. Accountability and transparency are not trademarks of this agency’s operations. Absent an internal process for both – along with a respected forum for self-criticism – the operations of BBG Watch are both necessary and appropriate.
Any agency of the Federal government that is labeled “dysfunctional” and “defunct” by the U.S. Secretary of State is in a bad way. The agency has also been labeled, “the worst organization in the Federal Government” by a U.S. Senator. Clearly, there is an operating philosophy in place inside the Cohen Building that accents and expands the negatives when thoughts about this agency come to mind in the Congress and elsewhere in the Federal Government.
The shortcomings of this agency are not miniscule. They are strategic and by consequence, catastrophic. At times, the bureaucratic apparatus inside the Cohen Building acts as if they are “the greatest show on earth,” an apt carnival-like cover for what is total institution and mission failure.
Technology of the 21st century has enabled an exponential explosion of media, some of it professional, some of it less so, Regardless of the category, there are now a wide range of choices that IBB strategic planners and executives have failed to properly assess and utilize to the advantage of the US Government and strategic audiences abroad. The failure of this agency to react and respond effectively has resulted in no message resonance not only for the agency, but for the United States as well. This contributes to strategic vulnerabilities for the United States.
On the other side of the technology argument, this agency acts as if the rest of the world is a suburb of Washington, DC. It is not. Many parts of the world are extremely poor and do not have reliable electricity and Internet infrastructure, including on the African continent, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Many people lack discretionary income to purchase personal computers or other forms of technological connectivity. Further, in-country service providers can be shut down in a heartbeat by autocratic governments.
This agency’s love affair with new technology is no substitute for core fundamentals that are essential even for this new technology to be effectively used. This is not just the question of shortwave and medium wave radio transmissions which by far remain the technology with the largest global footprint. IBB executives not only dismiss this medium, saying that no one listens to shortwave and medium wave radio, but they also dismiss core news reporting activities and radio itself (including Internet radio) as a medium of communicating with international audiences. To say that no one listens to radio on shortwave, medium wave and on Internet is false. As paltry as the agency’s global audience numbers are, radio continues to remain the agency’s best communications tool. In truth, it is not as much a matter that no one listens to shortwave, medium wave or Internet radio. It is more a case of no one listens to agency programs because they have been cut off…by the agency itself, more often than not.
And you need to have news and program content worth listening to.
While we’re on the subject:
Agency audiences numbers have been generally stagnant since the end of the Cold War. For the Voice of America, they hover (by the agency’s account) somewhere in the region of 124-134 million (FY2009 – FY2012) out of a total global population of 7-BILLION. In 1989, the world’s population was 5-BILLION. The potential global audience for VOA and other BBG programs has grown about 40% since 1989.
Voice of America’s global audience in 1989 was 130 million — about the same as it is now, 24 years later. 40% population growth, introduction of satellite TV programs, local placement, the Internet, mobile applications — but IBB strategic planners and executives still have not been able to increase the audience in the last 24 years despite getting much larger budgets and increasing their own numbers multiple times. They have not taken proper advantage of the opportunities offered by new media while destroying much of the agency’s news gathering and reporting capabilities.
We even suspect that the current audience numbers are less…keeping in mind (as an example of its lack of transparency) the agency does not provide for public examination its survey methodology, questionnaires or related materials. This would illuminate how the agency groups responses and attempts “gaming” audience numbers that may not be directly related to the agency’s programs at all.
For these any many more reasons, the BBG Watch accountability remains vital to an understanding of where things stand with regard to the condition of US Government international broadcasting.
One should expect that this latest cyber attack will not deter the commitment to this accountability project by BBG Watch and its volunteers and contributors. It will continue until the agency is rehabilitated or its functions terminated.
Freedom requires eternal vigilance. That includes the most basic of freedoms: freedom of speech.