by The Federalist
Juxtapose link a few words together and they can elicit a heated reaction.
For example: US Government broadcasting.
To many Americans, government broadcasting equals propaganda. It brings up images and historical examples usually connected with some of history’s most heinous regimes. At the top of the list would be Nazi Germany.
And that was only the beginning of the nightmare.
Other examples of state propaganda in the modern era abound, principally those of the Soviet Union, North Korea, and the al-Qaeda terrorist network among others.
Americans do not like propaganda. They particularly don’t like propaganda or the perception and/or appearance of propaganda aimed at them from any external source. Last and definitely not least, they do not like a government agency funded by American taxpayer dollars seemingly aiming government propaganda at them.
It does not really matter whether propaganda is real, perceived, or only suspected or feared. There may be no propaganda now, but the government could introduce it in the future. Americans simply do not want to take that risk. Even a small risk is too great for them. Even if it could not come close to any of the historical examples, they do not want it.
And now, here comes the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) proudly proclaiming that it is making its programming available to American audiences thanks to the Smith Mundt Modernization Act.
Interviewed by John Hudson for the Foreign Policy magazine blog, “The Cable” (“U.S. Repeals Propaganda Ban, Spreads Government-Made News to Americans,” July 14, 2013) Lynne Weil, an agency spokesperson states,
“Now Americans will be able to know more about what they are paying for with their tax dollars — greater transparency is a win-win for all involved,” she said.
This statement is half right. American taxpayers are having their pockets picked to pay for this IBB scheme. Americans already had complete access to all Voice of America programs on the Internet. There is no so-called “win-win” here.
Consider also the fact that this agency is remarkable for its longstanding, institutionalized record as one of the worst agencies in the Federal Government.
This agency, particularly its senior IBB managers do not believe in transparency. They mouth the words, but their actions speak otherwise.
Consider for example the absent “Russia Review,” supposedly being undertaken by Jeffrey Trimble, the IBB Deputy Director
What is the “Russia Review?” This was supposed to be the agency’s review of the circumstances surrounding the mass firing of the Russian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) replaced by newly-installed (and now gone) Russian Service director.
This “Russia Review” is nowhere – absolutely nowhere – on the radar.
So much for “transparency” as an inherent part of the IBB operating philosophy.
Also consider the IBB actions regarding a State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) which was little more than an attack directed against Ambassador Victor Ashe, a BBG member. Ambassador Ashe has established a reputation as a believer in the practice of transparency, not the hollow IBB mouthing of the words. To all appearances, he was getting too close to the lack of IBB transparency.
Not stopping there, anonymous IBB surrogates launched an even more public, visceral attack directed at Ashe – character assassination at its worst.
You need to know these things going in to know what kind of people you are dealing with.
Mr. Hudson’s title also puts coloration to the subject, essentially labeling the agency as a propaganda mill cranking out “government-made news to Americans.”
Wow! That is really going to get someone’s attention.
And indeed it has with over 600 comments many in the extreme indicating even the suggestion that a US Government agency is directing a propaganda campaign at the American people.
Which is what we see the agency doing.
The answer is this:
This agency has been labeled defunct. We believe that it is. To all appearances, it can no longer execute its mission, principally codified in the Voice of America (VOA) Charter. It is failing to do so and doing it on a massive scale. It intends to eliminate direct radio broadcasting to one of its most important core audience constituencies. Sooner or later, its costly and relatively unproductive television adventure will also fall off a cliff. That leaves it with an Internet operation that is largely blocked in strategic countries like Russia, China and Iran. And it can be blocked elsewhere in the world with the relative ease.
And as we know from other events, computer-driven technology is, at its heart, a data gathering enterprise. Sure, it allows data to be moved, transported, transferred all over the place but it also allows for an enormous amount of data surveillance. If you live in a country with a dim view of the United States, the easiest way to get on the wrong side of the government is by trying to access US Government websites (unless of course, you are part of the state apparatus engaged in espionage).
So what’s left for this defunct agency?
You guessed it: targeting American citizens with its program content.
Americans are already being bombarded daily with editorial content from many commercial media companies. The 21st century is an era heavy on the side of advocacy, not objective journalism. Also part of the mix is what has been referred to as “confirmation bias:” in other words, gravitating toward editorial content that is in line with one’s own personal views.
And now, here comes the IBB with “government-made news to Americans.”
Can anyone really surprised that this article generated over 600 comments most of them full of anger and suspicion at what this agency is up to?
But this is it: the last card the IBB apparatchiks can play after effectively taking the US Government out of effective international broadcasting. This agency claims a global audience of around 203-million (parsed out to about 100-mill each for radio and television with a mere pittance via the Internet). We suspect the number to be exaggerated by the games one can play with data in audience surveys.
But the real “elephant in the room” is a global population of 7-BILLION. This agency has been around for 70 years. It should have an institutional legacy of some resonance with foreign publics. Whatever resonance it might have had at one time is clearly being undermined to render it lost.
Predictably, another saw in the IBB repertoire is that they are providing news and information not only to mainstream Americans but also to the immigrant, expatriate communities in the United States. They troop out the Somali-American communities but there are other examples.
The IBB acts as if these communities live in an information vacuum. They do not. They have access to all kinds of information from a variety of sources, across all media platforms, inbound to and outbound from the United States.
Another thing that is not spoken to is the fact that IBB websites are and have been available to anyone before the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act became law. Also, it was perfectly legal for any American broadcaster to re-broadcast VOA programs downloaded from the Internet or from satellite before the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act became law.
In so many words, full of themselves and their la-la land view of things, the IBB decided it was time to unlock Pandora’s Box and set fire to a whole host of sensitivities on the part of the American people when the word
comes up and is used in the context of, “U.S. Repeals Propaganda Ban, Spreads Government-Made News to Americans.”
US national interests would have been better served to get at the heart of why the agency is such an abject failure and taking appropriate remedial action to correct the problems and deal with those responsible (the IBB).
Instead, this is one of several actions that point to the fact that this agency can no longer function effectively with global publics and is now being foisted on the American people – and adding insult to injury, having the American taxpayer pay for it.
Paying for failure, compounding and seemingly perpetuating that failure is unacceptable.
Paying for an agency to propagandize the American people is unacceptable.
We may have to endure a few budget cycles of this before the reality sinks in. But ultimately, the only action left to be taken is:
Close this agency once and for all.
Defunct means defunct. And this agency, through the IBB, meets the definition of the word.