BBG Watch Commentary
Publicly-funded U.S. multimedia broadcasters serving international audiences, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Voice of America (VOA), have launched a new 30-minute daily Russian-language TV news program for audiences in countries bordering Russia. According to press releases on RFE/RL, VOA, and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) websites, the new program, «Настоящее время» (Current Time) , will offer “a balanced alternative to the disinformation produced by Russian media outlets that is driving instability in the region.”
“With this show, U.S. international media is stepping up to push back against an outrageously cynical and reckless media campaign that is fueling aggression and violence in Ukraine and other areas of the former Soviet Union,” said Jeff Shell, Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees RFE/RL and VOA.
The program appears to be largely managed by Prague-based RFE/RL, which has an extensive network of news bureaus and reporters in the region, but there is merging of VOA, RFE/RL, and “Current Time” brands within the program, which may spell confusion over the show’s identity down the road. The “Current Time” (“Nastoyashchee Vremya”) website shows up with an RFE/RL favicon. RFE/RL brand is also highlighted by extensive use of RFE/RL’s branding orange color.
The BBG press release refers to VOA as “a dynamic multimedia broadcaster funded by the U.S. government” and to RFE/RL as “a private, independent international news organization” … “funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).” Both VOA and RFE/RL are, however, public institutions. They are publicly funded by U.S. taxpayers with appropriations from the U.S. Congress. Both are overseen by the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors. Unlike VOA, which is part of the federal government structure, RFE/RL operates under IRS rules as a nonprofit Sec. 501(c) 3 corporation chartered in Delaware. It receives federal grants from the BBG. Voice of America operates under the VOA Charter, a 1976 law passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Ford.
In a lecture on the topic of Putin’s disinformation war, delivered last month 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, who had previously worked at RFE/RL and VOA, 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.
The new daily TV program from RFE/RL and VOA for Russian speakers, however, is only 30 minutes long. Voice of America Russian Service had a 30 minute satellite TV news program, but one of the previous BBG Boards terminated it in 2008 on a recommendation from the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executive staff which manages the agency. VOA Russian radio broadcasts were also terminated in 2008 shortly before Russia invaded and annexed parts of Georgia.
Launching a 24/7 Russian language TV channel would require substantial new funding from the U.S. Congress, as well as management reforms within the agency responsible for U.S. international media outreach to make getting such funding even remotely possible.
While a 30-minute TV program may not have nearly the same impact as a 24/7 satellite TV stream of news and entertainment, it is a step in the right direction. Its success will depend largely on local distribution in countries with Russian-speaking populations, such as Ukraine, the Baltic states, Moldova, and Georgia, as well as on the program’s news quality and production values. With three different brands and audiences in different countries, the program’s identity may, however, be confusing to its intended audience.
There is no chance that the program will be rebroadcast by local stations in Russia at this time, but local distribution in some parts of Ukraine and in some other countries in the region, should be possible. According to the BBG press release, the program is produced “in partnership with public and private broadcasters and Internet portals in Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, and Ukraine.”
READ: No invasion of Ukraine if U.S. had 24/7 Russian TV channel, Paul Goble says, BBG Watch, Sept. 18, 2014.
Broadcasting Board of Governors News Release
WASHINGTON (October 14, 2014) – A new Russian-language TV news program that launched today will provide audiences in countries bordering Russia with a balanced alternative to the disinformation produced by Russian media outlets that is driving instability in the region.
“Current Time,” or “Nastoyashchee Vremya” in Russian, is a joint production of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Voice of America undertaken in partnership with public and private broadcasters and Internet portals in Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, and Ukraine. Drawing on a network of reporters in the region, European capitals, RFE/RL’s headquarters in Prague, and VOA in Washington, D.C., it presents a daily, 30-minute mix of live news coverage, interviews, original features, and political satire. It offers content that is not otherwise available on state-controlled Russian media to provide a “reality check” on local events.
“With this show, U.S. international media is stepping up to push back against an outrageously cynical and reckless media campaign that is fueling aggression and violence in Ukraine and other areas of the former Soviet Union,” said Jeff Shell, Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees RFE/RL and VOA. “The show will provide unbiased, verifiable journalism. Facts, not lies.”
“Current Time” is one part of U.S. international media’s efforts to respond to official propaganda in and around Russia. In addition to television audiences, the program will reach viewers on YouTube, Internet news portals, and social media. The producers plan to expand programming, market presence in the region, and satellite and online distribution throughout 2015.
RFE/RL is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, television, and mobile — reach influential audiences in 21 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
VOA is a dynamic multimedia broadcaster funded by the U.S. government, which broadcasts accurate, balanced, and comprehensive news and information in 45 languages to a global audience of 164 million people. For more information about VOA, visit the Public Relations website at www.insidevoa.com, or the main news site at www.voanews.com.
RFE/RL News Release
VOA News Release