BBG Watch Media

We post a few more quotes from a new study, “Reassessing U.S. International Broadcasting,” written by a former Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member S. Enders Wimbush and a former Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) executive Elizabeth M. Portale.

New study blasts US international broadcasting setup, calls for reforms EXCLUSIVE PREVIEW, BBG Watch, March 30, 2015

The study is expected to be made available online shortly. We will provide a link to the full study on our website.

Those interviewed for the study included former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, former chairmen of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Marc Nathanson and Amb. James Glassman, former Voice of America directors Geoffrey Cowan and Robert Reilly, former RFE/RL President Dr. Jeffrey Gedmin, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman, former Freedom House President David Kramer, Dr. Francis Fukuyama, and several other prominent American scholars, diplomats, journalists and media experts.

“Many see the entire enterprise as broken.”

“Their most powerful and persistent observation was the need to completely re-­‐conceptualize how the U.S. government communicates in support of its foreign policy, starting from the ground up.”

“Responding to threats, advancing democratic norms, and conveying U.S. foreign policy interests should be key parts of the mission.”

“Surrogate presence assumes greater importance as regimes monopolize information that really counts.”

“Detractors should be denied an opportunity to tarnish America. The conveying of U.S. values should be consistent but not didactic.”

“U.S. international broadcasting should be the definitive source for news on America. America should be shown in all its complexity, nuance and diversity.”

“The U.S. is engaged in a war of ideas. U.S. international broadcasting should be an essential soft power instrument with key audiences.”

“To justify the investment, its activities must be tied to America’s strategic interests. Purveying ‘objective journalism ‘s by itself insufficient reason for U.S. international broadcasting to exist.”

“Currently the taxpayer has little idea—or the wrong idea—of what he or she is paying for with regard to U.S. international broadcasting.”

“Oversight should be redesigned and relocated in government to facilitate its connection to foreign policy objectives and practices.”

In conjunction with our earlier report, this covers all the major points in the executive summary in some detail.

Here is additional material from the study specifically related to VOA, but also to the so called “surrogate broadcasters”:

“…a number of interviewees sought to address what they described as a persistent tension in recent years, especially in the VOA newsroom, between journalists’ sense that being both “independent” and employed by the American government are incompatible. This tension mirrors a larger one, discussed elsewhere in this report, surrounding the attachment of U.S. international broadcasting to U.S. foreign policy. The journalists’ concern is that too close or too obvious a connection between broadcasting and its affiliation with the U.S. government compromises the credibility of their work, especially if their mission is to support U.S. policies and positions.

The interviewees in our sample were unsympathetic to this view. ‘They don’t understand who they are working for,’ noted one who had had extensive interaction with the VOA’s newsroom. ‘Some of them see themselves as entirely neutral with respect to anything having to do with U.S. foreign policy. How can that be? Intuitively, why would one wish to pay for that, and why wouldn’t you want to go and work for Fox or CNN anyway? It’s a great conceit and indulgence that has taken place over time’.”

“One interviewee acknowledged his understanding of what the VOA’s journalism is supposed to achieve. ‘I never think of VOA as objective journalism,’ he noted. ‘I do interviews with them because I want to support the U.S. But I never think people will listen to it the way they would to the BBC. It is clearly the U.S. official presentation.’

‘Journalism is only part of [U.S. international broadcasting],’ concluded another senior diplomat, summarizing the views of most interviewees.”

No one in our sample argued for turning the VOA or the surrogate broadcasters into ‘propaganda’ instruments that slant or twist information to support tendentious policies, preferences or points of view. U.S. international broadcasting is not ‘a messaging machine,’ one said.

“Journalism ‘is not the end, it’s the means. The end is national interest, foreign policy goals. This is the means to it,’ was a common refrain in interviews.”

“Journalism is a convention that U.S. international broadcasting should direct toward winning the information war, most noted. One observed that ‘one way of putting it is, really good journalism directed at a particular goal, is actually a really powerful tool’.”