BBG Watch Commentary

Paul Goble at IWP 9-17-14In a lecture on the topic of Putin’s disinformation war, delivered at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, top U.S. expert on Russian disinformation Prof. Paul Goble said that if the United States had invested some time ago in a 24/7 direct-to-home satellite television channel in the Russian language, targeting not only Russia proper but also Russian-speakers in the former Soviet republics, the Russian invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine would not have happened because disinformation messages from the Kremlin would have been countered.

According to Prof. Goble, 24/7 direct-to-home satellite television is truly a new media model in terms of effectiveness in shaping public opinion. He said that direct-to-home satellite TV is more effective than social media, which is important in some areas, but not nearly as much as satellite television that can be viewed at home at any time.

Prof. Goble observed that it was up to the United States or the European Union to launch such a satellite TV channel because governments of countries like Ukraine were reluctant for political reasons to initiate Russian-language television broadcasts.

Prof. Goble disagreed with views that broadcasting is an “old model” or that the U.S. should rely on social media in its information outreach abroad. He pointed out that a former U.S. Ambassador to Russia had a very limited audience and not much impact using Twitter. He could have been far more effective had he appeared on a national TV channel in Russia, Prof. Goble observed.

Prof. Goble said that the “old model” characterization may apply to shortwave and medium wave radio broadcasting and the so-called “appointment” listening or viewing when audiences listen to a broadcast or view it only at a certain time.

He also said that local affiliate-driven FM radio broadcasting or TV broadcasting by the U.S. is unreliable. He noted that affiliate program placement also promotes self-censorship by U.S. broadcasters who want to avoid being evicted from countries ruled by authoritarian regimes.

BBG Watch had observed previously that the affiliate-driven model may work well in friendly and democratic countries which may not need U.S. government-funded broadcasting. But the senior management of taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) engages more and more in pre-censoring programs for placement in countries with authoritarian regimes, such as Russia and Vietnam, in possible violations of the VOA Charter. The Charter calls for uncensored, balanced and comprehensive news reporting by VOA.

The most effective international information outreach model, according to Prof. Goble, is 24/7 direct-to-home satellite television, both in terms of its popularity as a medium for receiving information and as a medium capable of influencing public opinion and countering disinformation. According to Prof. Goble, social media has only a limited impact in this area.

In his lecture, “Natalie Grant and the Critical Importance of Understanding Disinformation” at the Institute of World Politics on September 17, 2014, Prof. Goble made a clear distinction between propaganda and disinformation. He pointed out that propaganda consists mostly of lies and has little effectiveness, while disinformation can consists of information that is 90 to 95 percent accurate. Disinformation is far more dangerous because false and misleading information and views are obscured by true information which the audience wants, Prof. Goble noted.

He also observed that the best weapon of U.S. international broadcasting is true and uncensored news, whether it is good or bad for the United States. Members of Congress should have more self-confidence when they discuss reforms of U.S. international broadcasting and not think that propaganda has to be countered with propaganda, Prof. Goble said.

But Prof. Goble noted that countering disinformation requires knowledge of foreign languages and special expertise which American diplomats and journalists are lacking.

In a recent article, Prof. Goble observed:

PROF. PAUL GOBLE: “First of all, many Western journalists confuse balance with objectivity. That means if anyone is in a position to put out a version of the story, however outrageous, journalists will often report it as one of the points of view out there, especially if the situation is confused or uncertain. And they may do so in ways that work particularly to Moscow’s advantage.”

Voice of America English News Service has hardly any Russia experts left. A recent VOA news analysis included an unchallenged claim that the NATO expansion in Eastern Europe was to blame for President Putin’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine. Unchallenged Russian disinformation claims have become common in VOA English News reports.

Commenting earlier on the current affiliate-driven Voice of America Russian Service participation in a program “Cold War?” produced by a business television channel in Russia, Prof. Goble wrote:

PROF. PAUL GOBLE: “I think this is a big mistake because it sends the wrong message and becomes yet another reason the BBG [Broadcasting Board of Governors] will use not to move to the next generation of international communications, direct-to-home satellite television. We will be used, I fear.”

Prof. Goble has been a lecturer at a number of universities in the U.S. and abroad. He also worked at the State Department, as a CIA analyst, and as program manager and advisor at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Voice of America.

Agreeing with Prof. Goble, a West European expert on disinformation and propaganda who wants to remain anonymous because of a sensitive professional and diplomatic position told BBG Watch that VOA would be well advised to stop its experiment at cooperation with a Russian television channel as soon as possible. “This program will go down in history as the example of Russian triumph in terms of info warfare,” the expert warned. The same expert pointed out that the Kremlin is exploiting VOA in a disinformation campaign aimed at the television audience in Russia and abroad, using the same disinformation techniques described by Prof. Goble in his lecture in Washington.


Prof. Paul Goble – No invasion of Ukraine if U.S. had 24/7 Russian TV channel

Prof. Paul Goble at The Institute of World Politics on September 17, 2014



View entire lecture: “Natalie Grant and the Critical Importance of Understanding Disinformation”

Prof. Paul Goble at The Institute of World Politics on September 17, 2014



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