Senator Coburn versus VOA: the story that will not go away.

Posted: 09 May 2008   Print   Send a link
A five page letter from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to national security advisor Stephen Hadley is posted at the MountainRunner blog, 2 May 2008. It details his complaints, reported in this previous post, about VOA broadcasts to Iran and about the Broadcasting Board of Governors. -- "Let me get this straight: We sponsor VOA because Iran doesn't have a free media that can criticize its own government; Congress is mad because VOA is criticizing the U.S. government, and VOA is mad that its employees are criticizing management." Sharon Weinberger, Wired Danger Room blog, 5 May 2008.
     Senator Coburn writes that members of the BBG lack accountability because they "report to no one, not even to each other." He recommends three people "qualified in strategic communication" for appointment to the Board. They are Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy; Scott Carpenter of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Enders Wimbush, senior vice president of the Hudson Institute.
     The International Broadcasting Act of 1994 created the bipartisan BBG, giving its members fixed and staggered terms, precisely to prevent to the type of interference in the content of U.S. international broadcasting now being attempted by Senator Coburn.
     Senator Coburn calls for U.S. international broadcasting to be used for "democracy promotion" in Iran. Democracy involves the people making choices about their nations. Those choices are informed by a free press. Yet Senator Coburn mocks the concept of international broadcasting citing multiple points of view to "let the Iranians decide for themselves."
     Instead, Senator Coburn writes: "The U.S. taxpayers should not subsidize content presenting a balance between the truth and the regime's malicious propaganda. U.S. broadcasts should be the balance to the propaganda being broadcast by the regime and others." In other words, U.S. international broadcasting should be all pro-U.S., all anti-Tehran regime, sort of like Radio Moscow in reverse.
     But audience research shows that people tune to foreign broadcasts to get the objective, comprehensive, balanced news that they do not get from their state-controlled domestic media. Propaganda cannot be fought with propaganda.
     Actually, U.S. international broadcasting could thrive under the Senator Coburn's vision. It would transmit the messages that would make the administration and many members of Congress beam with approval. They would respond by maintaining the funds for international broadcasting. The only problem is that almost no one would listen to, or view, such a broadcasting effort.
     And so Senator Coburn's sustained tirade against U.S. international broadcasting has entertainment value. Here is the champion of fiscal responsibility advocating an international broadcasting strategy that would be an absolute, utter, complete waste of the taxpayers' money.