Posted: 15 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
Posted: 15 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
AP, 12 July 2013: "CNN boss Jeff Zucker said Friday that criticism that his network underplayed the Egyptian coup in favor of the George Zimmerman murder trial is 'a bunch of bunk.' 'I feel increasingly comfortable and confident that we got it in the right balance,' said Zucker, who is marking his sixth month at the helm of the cable news network and its affiliates. CNN's priorities in giving extensive coverage to the trial of the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer on trial for murder were questioned last week during the height of political unrest in Egypt, a story that CNN International was spending virtually all of its time on."
Reuters, 13 July 2013, Eric Kelsey: "While Fox News Channel has attracted a dedicated following among conservative viewers and MSNBC among a smaller liberal audience, Zucker's CNN has been left to find its own viewership niche to maximize on a daily basis, said Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. 'CNN kind of held off as an old-school news channel in the broadcaster mold,' Thompson said of pre-Zucker CNN, which made its mark three decades ago covering international news."
Press Think, 8 July 2013, Jay Roasen: "The other thing I hear back ad nauseum is: 'Jay, watch CNN International, so much better.' Uh… okay. I don’t have CNN International in my cable package, but I do know how to change the channel. So thanks!" See also the comments about CNN International. Those seeking to ad Al Jazeera English, or now Al Jazeera America, to thise cable systems' lineup, should also be agitating for BBC World News and CNN International. Then the cable viewer would have the "big three" global English news channels, and would be well informed about world events.
TMR, 3 July 2013, Zoe Schlanger: "The building that houses Al Jazeera's live Egypt service was raided by security forces and forcibly taken off the air, according to an update Al Jazeera English posted to its website [3 July]. Al Jazeera correspondents told Al Jazeera English the raid occurred while a live broadcast was in progress, and that the presenter, guests and producers were arrested."
Foreign Policy, Passport, 3 July 2013, Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer: "There's been an abundance of -- deserved -- criticism of CNN's coverage today [3 July], which spent much of the morning focused on the ongoing George Zimmerman trial while giving short shrift to the showdown between the military and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. But if CNN's ears should be burning right now - what about Al Jazeera English? Around noon, EST, just as tensions in Egypt were peaking -- as rumors swirled of tanks taking to the streets in Cairo and President Mohamed Morsy being held under house arrest -- the Qatar-based broadcaster was showing viewers in the United States ... a regularly scheduled special about undocumented immigrants in America? (The channel switched to live Egypt coverage a few minutes before 1 p.m. EST, but continued to intersperse other programming.)"
Posted: 14 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
Posted: 14 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
Broadband TV News, 2 July 2013, Robert Briel: "Yahoo! and Euronews have said content from the international news channel is now available on 11 of the Yahoo! news sites. The news items will be available in 7 languages (Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Greek). Euronews’ international news coverage, as well as programmes on business, European affairs, culture, science and technology and the No Comment format of the channel are available on 11 Yahoo! news sites for UK/Ireland, Canada (in English and French), France, Germany, Italy, Spain and South-Africa. The agreement also includes Yahoo-Maktoob news services in English and Arabic, and the soon to be launched video news section of Yahoo! Greece."
Radio Canada International is no longer on radio, but Farm Radio International, based in Canada, is.
Posted: 14 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
Posted: 12 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
Posted: 12 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
This does not come as a complete surprise, as Australian newspapers had reported that RA shortwave broadcasts to the two countries might end. Presumably, Radio Australia shortwave broadcasts to Papua New Guinea and the Pacific island states will continue. Shortwave audiences in China and Indonesia are proportionately very small, and in China would probably continue to be small even if the Beijing authorities would let up on their incessant jamming. Recent digital text tests on Radio Australia suggest that shortwave could be useful as a circumvention tool, a possibility that Australia may now not be able to explore.
Posted: 12 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
AFP, 2 July 2013: "'I have been informed that Senators James Inhofe and Bob Corker are concerned about plans that may reduce pro-democracy shortwave broadcasts into mainland China by Radio Taiwan International,' US Representative Dana Rohrabacher said in a letter to Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou."
Epoch Times, 2 July 2013, Matthew Robertson: "There are a total of around 28 of the 75-meter (246 feet) high structures located at Tianma and Huwei in Taiwan. [Falun Gong's] Sound of Hope has for nine years been renting them to carpet mainland China with its broadcast for four or five hours every night, becoming one of RTI’s largest customers."
Epoch Times, 2 July 2013, Matthew Robertson: "The response by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, or Tecro, in Washington, says that many of Sound of Hope’s grievances are 'completely inconsistent with the facts.' It was posted in Chinese on the agency’s website... ."
Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office of the U.S. press release, 3 July 2013: "After the relocation and consolidation of RTI’s Tainan and Huwei stations, the mission and broadcasting hours of the transmissions will be moved to RTI’s sites at Bao-Jong and Tanshuei, both of which possess new transmission equipment. The current equipment at Tainan and Huwei stations is over thirty years old with annually-increasing maintenance costs, and the stations’ transmitting effectiveness reached only 50% of the service area, compared with the new equipment’s efficiency of 80 to 90%. Therefore, the consolidation will not only improve the quality of the signal but also effectively reduce the cost."
Epoch Times, 6 July 2013, Matthew Robertson: "For generations of Chinese people, shortwave radio broadcasts have sometimes been the only source of independent and truthful news about what is going on around the world and even what is happening inside their own country. ... The most recent noted beneficiary of shortwave broadcasting in China is the well-known blind Chinese human rights lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, who after being released from prison was immediately put under house arrest by authorities in his village of Linyi, Shandong Province. Chen was permitted to listen to shortwave radio broadcasts, though. In recent interviews he has given in Taiwan, Chen said that for the masses of Chinese that don’t have computers, 'shortwave broadcasts are extremely good for helping them understand news from the outside world. It’s a simple and convenient, and hard to disrupt.'"
Posted: 12 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
Broadcasting Board of Governors press release, 19 June 2013: "Members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors emphasized the need for global press freedom and renewed their call for the release of journalists being held in Syria. 'Bashar Fahmi, a correspondent for Alhurra, is still missing and incommunicado in Syria. It has been 10 months since we have heard from him, and it is devastating for us and his family,' said BBG Governor Susan McCue on the Board’s behalf at a June 19 meeting – the first time that a woman has chaired a meeting of the BBG board."
International broadcaster Al Jazeera retweets international broadcaster France 24 re Guantanamo force-feedings.
Posted: 12 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
Posted: 12 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
Broadcasting Board of Governors Notebook, 4 July 2013: "Radio Free Europe celebrates its 63rd anniversary — on July 4, 1950, RFE broadcast their first program in Czechoslovakia." See also Cold War Radios, 9 July 2013, Richard H. Cummings.
RFE/RL press release, 20 June 2013: "RFE/RL has documented a pattern of disruption of its satellite news programming to Azerbaijan that could indicate a new level of deliberate interference, a practice known as jamming."
Posted: 12 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
Radio Free Asia press release, 1 July 2013: "Radio Free Asia is pleased the Cambodian government reversed its recent directive banning foreign radio broadcasts during the entire election period. The free flow of objective news and information is a key pillar of free and fair elections in Cambodia and everywhere. While we welcome this decision we remain concerned over other arbitrary press restrictions during the election period, including a proposed foreign media blackout during the election weekend. We look forward to the remaining press restrictions being removed and the Cambodian people having full access to the accurate information they deserve." See also RFA press release, 28 June 2013.
Broadcasting Board of Governors press release, 30 June 2013: "'We are pleased that the Cambodian government has decided to allow broadcasting by all groups on the upcoming elections, but restrictions on media freedom remain,' said Victor Ashe, a BBG board member and the vice chair of Radio Free Asia. 'An important part of all democracies is to allow full media coverage of all candidates and campaigns with the people making the final decision on election day. Furthermore, the people of Cambodia deserve nothing short of complete freedom of the press at all times.'" See also BBG press release, 28 June 2013.
Voice of America press release, 28 June 2013: "VOA’s Khmer Service is one of the most popular international sources of news in Cambodia, and the government’s decision to pull VOA radio programs off FM stations sparked immediate complaints on Facebook and other social media sites."
The Cambodia Daily, 2 July 2013, Moeun Chhean Nariddh: "First, professional media like Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and Radio France International serve as the mirror of the government to reflect on its performance so that it can improve itself. The original decision to ban the three international broadcasters from broadcasting on local radio stations is no different from breaking the mirror. ... Second, the news produced by the three international radio programs is of a very high professional standard and can only be produced by journalists with high professional skills. The local radio stations that RFA, VOA and RFI have broadcast their news programs on not only receive quality news for free but they also earn a much-needed revenue to support themselves. The three international broadcasters also serve as a role model for local journalists both in terms of the limit of press freedom and how professional news items are produced. ... Third, the Cambodian people, particularly registered voters, badly need balanced news from the three international broadcasters during the election period so that they can make more informed decisions on election day on July 28. Even supporters of the ruling party also need to know the other side of the stories apart from those produced by the pro-government media outlets so that they can help protect the party they support from any criticism."
Radio Australia and Radio France International Khmer services are available on their own FM transmitters in Cambodia, while VOA and RFA Khmer programs are carried as part of the schedules of Beehive Radio, Women's Media Center, and other FM stations in the country. VOA continued to be available on medium wave (from Thailand) and shortwave, and RFA and RFI on shortwave.
In my research for this post, I happened across the RFA and VOA stories below, both reporting the same news. This supports my observation in the previous post that "In USIB, one cannot swing a cat without hitting an instance of duplication."
VOA Khmer could be instructed to cover only US and general world news, thus eliminating the duplication, but in doing so it would lose most of its audience, as Cambodians are interested mostly in news about Cambodia. Furthermore, such a directive would force Cambodians to listen to two US radio stations to get all the news. Most Cambodians have some interest in the rest of the world.
There is no reason for VOA and RFA to compete with each other in Cambodia. The Radio France International and Radio Australia Khmer services provide the competition. The money that is spent by overlap in Khmer and 25 other USIB languages could be used to enhance, or add, other language services. Short of consolidation, there is no satisfactory solution.
Radio Free Asia, 7 July 2013, Yanny Hin: "Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy has decided to return home from exile ahead of the July 28 general elections despite facing the risk of being jailed, saying he wants to 'test' his country's democratic credentials and remind the international community of its obligations to ensure 'free and fair' polls."
Voice of America, 9 July 2013, Heng Reaksmey: "Sam Rainsy, the leader of Cambodia’s opposition, says he will return ahead of the July 28 elections, ending nearly four years in exile and facing more than 10 years of imprisonment for a raft of charges he claims are politically motivated."
Posted: 11 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
BBC World Service press release, 25 June 2013: "New figures released today show the BBC’s global news services reach 256m people each week, the biggest ever audience. These figures, for the year 2012/13, represent an increase of 16.6 million people, or 7%, on the previous year. The World Service now has a record weekly audience of 192m people. The Global Audience Estimate (GAE) measures the combined reach of the BBC’s international services - BBC World Service, BBC World News and bbc.com/news - across the world. There has been significant growth in audiences for BBC digital sites, which now reach 38m people every week, an increase of 8m. World Service TV audiences for Persian and Arabic have also grown rapidly, with a total of 41.5m viewers, compared to 28.7m last year. These growth areas are bringing in younger audiences." Listen also to BBG Global News director Peter Horrocks on BBC World Service "Over To You," 29 June 2013.
The Telegraph, 25 June 2013, Neil Midgley: "These buoyant figures come despite ongoing cuts from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which currently funds the World Service. Just two weeks ago, the FCO announced a budget cut of £1.7million – which Horrocks described drily as 'the fourth "one-off" funding cut in four years'."
The BBG audience of 203 million comes at the cost of its $720 million budget for FY2013. Compare this to BBC Global's 256 million for its 2013 budget of $352 million. (BBC World News and BBC.com are, at least in theory, self-funding and even profit-making, so the BBC World Service budget is used here.) BBC Global pays about $1.40 per audience member, BBG about $3.50.
This shows that the BBG must attend to its own efficiency before it asks for more money, which is not likely to be forthcoming, in any case. There are two reasons for BBC Global's greater efficiency. One is that it is a single, unified multimedia effort. USIB consists of multiple entities, with overlap in 26 languages. Second, BBC Global is militant about guarding its independence, and clear about its news mission. The BBG is more ambiguous about its news function, and its mission statement does not even mention news.
In comparing audience sizes, it could be pointed out that USIB, unlike BBC Global, does not broadcast to North America, so subtract about 40 million from the BBC estimate. (But now that the domestic dissemination prohibition has been lifted, the BBG will probably begin to count its internet metrics from the USA, so this convenient deduction may no longer be available.) Also, subtract the BBC's 2.4 million in Australia/Pacific and 12.7 million in Western Europe, two other places outside of the USIB coverage area. And, finally, the BBC World News audience of about 26 million could also be subtracted, because USIB has no global English-language television news channel. By tying these four arms behind the BBC's back, USIB can claim that its audience is larger in the target countries and in the media it shares with BBC Global.
The contrast in funding levels, however, remains. USIB has the advantage of double the budget. Another important advantage for USIB is that BBC World Service was late in placing non-English content on television stations in its target countries. This is because Parliament, until a few years ago, restricted the BBCWS budget to radio, with international television ventures required (impossibly in most languages) to be self-funding.
Many people think that BBC World Service gets all sorts of free services and resources from the parent domestic BBC, thus allowing it to compete successfully with a smaller budget. Actually, a strict fair trading requirement at BBC means that World Service, still funded by the Foreign Office, must pay the domestic BBC, funded by the license fee, for any services. Next year, when the BBC World Service budget also comes from the license fee, and with the BBC domestic and international newsrooms more closely combined, it may become more difficult to isolate the BBC World Service budget figure from that of the rest of the BBC. The synergies that BBC achieves by combining its international and domestic news operations should not be used as an excuse by the BBG, but as a lesson.
The global estimate is a crude measure. It is the amalgamation of samples, many of which are far from perfect due to the difficult nature of survey research in many countries. Changes in the global estimate from year to year are often likely to be due to new samples which may or may not be better than the samples they replace. In some target countries, survey research is not possible at all.
Also, USIB's 203 million and BBC's 256 million are not very large as a percentage of the world's adult population. They had better make up in quality what they lack in quantity. A much more important measure is what percent of elites in individual countries are listening to/viewing/reading the international broadcaster's content. A benchmark might be to reach at least ten percent of the ten percent highest educated at least once a week. Any preoccupation with the global audience estimate might tempt international broadcasters to concentrate on countries with large populations. But small countries are also capable of mischief and should not be ignored in international broadcasting strategies.
Finally, VOA's Latin American strategy is dicey. The International Broadcasting Act of 1994 stipulates that US government funded international broadcasting should not compete with US private sector international broadcasting. CNN en Español is rather successful throughout the Hemisphere, and at no cost to the US taxpayers. VOA can add substantially to the BBG global estimate by securing good television affiliates in Latin America. On the other hand, VOA's role in Latin America vis-à-vis that of CNN en Español needs to be discussed.
The Guardian, 25 June 2013, Josh Halliday: "The BBC's aim to broadcast in North Korea for the first time has been curbed by government cuts to its budget, the corporation's director of global news has said. Peter Horrocks said airing programmes in the secretive state is still on his 'wish list' but is unlikely to happen in the next year, following the £2.2m annual budget cut announced by William Hague earlier this month. ... The prospect of the BBC broadcasting in North Korea was briefly examined by MPs in an all-party parliamentary group earlier this year. Lord Alton, the crossbench peer who chairs the group, last year claimed to have held 'very positive' discussions with officials in Washington about the plans." See previous post about same subject.
Posted: 03 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
See Kim's comments, "The Battle for the Soul of U.S. International Broadcasting," about the hearing and the future of US international broadcasting.
USC Center on Public Diplomacy, 26 June 2013, Emily T. Metzgar: "Today’s event on Capitol Hill broke no new ground in the debate about how to address well-recognized difficulties in the operation of U.S. international broadcasting. But the hearing carried tremendous symbolic importance: First, the subject of USIB was the focus of a nearly two-hour hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Second, discussion took as a given the litany of problems increasingly associated with the BBG, evidenced in everything from the reports of outside consultants, to consistently low employee morale, to damning GAO and OIG accounts of the status quo. Finally, both members and witnesses spoke directly about the role of USIB as part of America’s public diplomacy efforts, thus successfully framing any future hearings, debates and legislative action as more than just requisite Congressional oversight but as real foreign policy imperatives. And that is a step in the right direction."
Heritage Foundation, 1 July 2013, Helle Dale: "A potential solution akin to the vision presented by James Glassman is to dismantle the BBG entirely and place Voice of America within the State Department, thus tying its mission closely to support of U.S. foreign policy. The surrogate broadcasters—Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Alhurra Television, Radio Sawa, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting—whose journalistic mission is more closely allied to democracy-building, might find a home with the semi-independent National Endowment for Democracy. Most encouragingly, Congress has finally shown a willingness to engage in oversight of this important, struggling tool of U.S. public diplomacy. Such congressional engagement is critically important for a more effective use of U.S. taxpayer dollars—and more effective broadcasting of news and American values to people around the world."
Ibid, S. Enders Wimbush responding: "Not surprisingly, I was both startled and amused to read Ms. Dale advocating for putting the Voice of America under its jurisdiction. Surely this is a strange position for someone from the Heritage Foundation. Apart from its statist overtones, locating the VOA in State is by definition putting it under the direction of the Secretary of State. Would Ms. Dale and Heritage be comfortable with Secretary Clinton or Secretary Kerry mobilizing the VOA to support their understanding of the failures in Benghazi, inaction in Syria, or the Russia 'reset' to a global audience?"
Radio World, 26 June 2013, Leslie Stimson: "To save federal dollars and efficiently target its resources, the witnesses and lawmakers discussed possibly eliminating some duplicative languages between all the broadcast services and/or cutting duplicative back office functions for each of the broadcasters. The hearing adjourned with no discussion of the next step."
VOA News, 26 June 2013, Cindy Saine: "After the hearing, the BBG gave VOA a statement saying the current BBG board has been working on ways to address the structural issue, reduce overlap and promote innovation, with the aim of providing the best support possible for its award-winning journalists' work around the globe, under increasingly tight budget constraints." With video report.
Posted: 03 Jul 2013 Print Send a link
On 26 June, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on U.S. international broadcasting (USIB): "Broadcasting Board of Governors: An Agency 'Defunct.'" During the hearing, two distinct visions of US international broadcasting, and of how it will consider the needs of the audience, became evident. The fate of US international broadcasting will be determined by the political debate in the next several months.
The opening statement by committee chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) included misinformation about the Voice of America: "While the Voice of America aims to provide listeners with objective news and information about United States foreign policy, the purpose of the surrogate broadcasters such as Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, is very different. And that is to beam ... information into closed societies, giving those citizens the information that otherwise they would never be able to access."
Anyone who has listened to VOA knows that its content is not limited to US foreign policy. VOA would not have an audience if it did not also include news about its target countries. Where did the chairman get this erroneous description of VOA? It is often used by supporters of the surrogate Radio-Free stations to justify their preservation. Such misinformation about VOA is persistent (see previous post). It was on such faulty premises about VOA that Radio Free Asia was created in 1996.
It is perhaps based on this perception of VOA as purveyor of US foreign policy that a proposal is swirling among Congressional staff offices that VOA be absorbed into the State Department. VOA, as the largest of USIB entities, with by far its largest audience, would therefore become a sacrificial elephant. Under State, VOA would lose, in quick succession, its independence, its credibility, its audience, and its justification for continued existence. The surrogate stations (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Alhurra, and Radio Sawa) would come under the umbrella of the National Endowment for Democracy. These entities would enjoy more independence than VOA, giving them the potential to continue reporting the news. The surrogates would retain their audiences and survive into the future.
The three witnesses at the hearing did not include any present members or representatives of the "defunct" BBG. Instead, three former members of the BBG spoke and took questions.
James K. Glassman
James K. Glassman was chairman of the BBG during the George W. Bush administration and was a senior fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. With those conservative credentials, it's interesting that Mr. Glassman's proposals for USIB are based on central planning rather than market based solutions. They focus on what the U.S. government wants the audience to hear, not on what the audience itself wants to hear. The attention of the audience is taken for granted.
While Mr. Glassman said USIB output should consist of "journalism of the highest caliber" he also said that such journalism should be "not the end but the means." It should be "following actual strategic directives, for example convincing Pakistanis that they face an existential threat from Al Qaeda" and trying "to persuade Iranians to oppose the development of nuclear weapons."
To that end, Mr. Glassman wants the BBG "fully integrated into the foreign policy apparatus of the US government" by placing USIB (all of it, not only VOA) into the State Department, with an assistant secretary of state playing the role of a CEO, or under a "resurrected USIA."
Mr. Glassman did not mention Radio Moscow and probably never listened to it back in the day, but it is the model for the type of USIB that he wants. Its news-like content was certainly a "means to an end" rather than an end itself. It was definitely integrated into the Soviet foreign policy apparatus. Radio Moscow was the granddaddy of international broadcasting, with more broadcast hours, more languages, more kilowatts, than any other international radio station. But it had a tiny audience.
This is because the audience for international broadcasting is, collectively, much smarter than the decision makers and experts who would devise schemes to use those broadcasts to change opinions in other countries. Yes, freedom is a more attractive ideology than communism, but extolment even for a commendable cause becomes repetitive. USIB under the Glassman centrally-planned vision would manage only to persuade the audience to reach for the dial and tune to the BBC.
Turning U.S. international broadcasting into public diplomacy would be bad public diplomacy. Audiences could be even more annoyed with the United States than they may already be if the U.S. provides a product labeled as news but is really thinly disguised advocacy for US policies. Audiences want news that is more credible than the news they get from their government-controlled domestic media. The solution is not more government controlled media.
Through international broadcasting as international news, audiences abroad will learn about U.S. policies. They will do so through interviews, actualities, reportage, all of which enhance credibility and attract audiences, rather than the opposite.
In his testimony, Enders Wimbush, a former director of Radio Liberty and member of the BBG until last year, described USIB as a "mélange" of federal agencies and 501C3 corporations. He also said that USIB is characterized by "rampant duplication of effort" and he read out all of the 23 languages that are transmitted by more than one entity. Because of all this duplication, said Mr. Wimbush, USIB lacks the funds to add new strategic languages, such as Ibo. The distinction between surrogate and non-surrogate broadcasting is a "canard." He added that "VOA has been practicing surrogacy for years" and that one station can both be a surrogate and "tell America's story."
About the BBG, Mr. Wimbush was blunt: it "was a bad idea when it was created, and it is dysfunctional." He recommends that the BBG be eliminated.
As one who has advocated consolidation of USIB for nearly a quarter century, I was happy to hear Mr. Wimbush's strong statements about consolidation and the deconstruction of the surrogate-official dichotomy. The elimination of the BBG, however, worries me. Throughout the world, there is no public broadcasting body that has been able to maintain its independence without the protection of a multi-partisan board. Such independence is necessary to achieve the credibility necessary for a successful news operation.
If the BBG is eliminated, chances are it will be replaced by something other than a bipartisan board. If the senior management of USIB is again appointed by the president with Senate consent, the quest for independence becomes a crapshoot. A president might appoint a director who is committed to independent journalism. Or the president might appoint a policy flack who will steer the broadcasting service to something with an evident bias. In previous decades, VOA went through such pendulum swings. The BBG was created to put an end to that, it succeeded, and thus it was, and still is, a good idea.
Of the three witnesses, only Jeffrey Hirschberg unambiguously made the case for independent journalism in USIB. "The most important thing is that US international broadcasting has in its favor around the world is its credibility. ... The BBG does not do messaging. It does not do advocacy." He also stressed that any CEO of USIB must be behind the BBG firewall, i.e. appointed by the Board and not by the president.
Mr. Hirschberg noted that the BBG worked well in the past, and can again if its members work together. He would not eliminate the present multi-entity structure of USIB. He said that, beyond its structure, part of the problem is that the BBG is underfunded.
Of course, I am gratified by Mr. Hirschberg's defense of the news function of USIB. And by his reminder that the BBG can work if it has the right people working constructively together.
I can't sign on to his desire to preserve the present multi-entity structure of USIB. The standard Washington solution to any bureaucratic problem is: increase our funding. An agency so replete with duplication should, however, reform itself, or beg Congress for the necessary reforms, before it asks for any budget enhancement.
The present structure of USIB 1) is full of duplication, a form of waste in federal spending, 2) divides resources that are scarce no matter how generous the budget, and 3) forces the audience to tune to two different stations to get all of the news. In USIB as it is now, each entity is assigned a deficiency. VOA needs more resources to report about its target country. RFE/RL and RFA mostly do not do world news and news about the USA. In each target country, through audience research, the audience will indicate what proportion of news about their country, about the United States, and about the rest of the world, they want. When two USIB entities transmit in the same language, neither is calibrated to provide news in the desired proportion.
Reps. Brad Sherman and Eliot Engel
Most of the members of the committee perceive U.S. international broadcasting as a form of advocacy. One member said the BBG is "not about increasing your target audience. It's about getting your message out." In other words, international broadcasting as soliloquy.
Two members of the committee defended the news function of USIB.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said, "We need to maintain enough distinction between the State Department and the broadcasters so that every news report isn't considered an official statement of the US government subject to 17 reviews." He also said, "I think we need one agency overseeing this to avoid the duplication."
He also spoke of his quest to add VOA broadcasts in the Sindh language of Pakistan. "I've been here 17 years. I haven’t seen any suggestion taken by the broadcasters unless it was passed by both houses of Congress and binding on them by law."
If languages of USIB were added every time a member of Congress wanted it added, USIB would soon be up to 200 or more languages. With resources so subdivided, daily broadcasts in each language would probably not be possible, nor would television in most of them.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), in his opening statement as ranking member, said, "As we examine ways to improve the governance of international broadcasting, it is vital that any reforms maintain the journalistic integrity that has been built over the last 70 years. This means maintaining a strong firewall between journalism and politics." He also cited what he described as a VOA adage: "Tell the truth and let the world decide."
That adage is a wonderful encapsulation of what VOA, and indeed all the entities of USIB, should do. It is, unfortunately, not displayed anywhere at the VOA headquarters. And it requires some explanation. Some might wonder, why merely broadcast truth to the world? Why on earth let audiences decide for themselves? Shouldn’t we decide for them? The answers are not difficult but require a slight intellectual leap.
Rep. Engel also asked a key question: "Is there any common ground in the overarching mission of US international broadcasting? Is it possible for the broadcasters to provide authoritative, accurate, and objective news while at the same time advancing US interests?"
The responses largely consisted of sophistry, with journalism positioned as a “context” for an effort whose real intent is to support U.S. policies. Mix any amount of propaganda with news, however, and the sum is propaganda. The audience will detect an agenda. And they can tune to other stations, or access other websites, with a more sincere approach to news.
Here is the answer to Rep. Engels’ question: Providing authoritative, accurate, and objective news in itself advances US interests. 1) It attracts an audience, because authoritative, accurate, and objective news is what the audience is seeking. 2) Having received such information, the audience is bolstered against the misinformation and disinformation of dictators and terrorists and other miscreants. 3) The audience has a clear and undistorted picture of US policies and actions, and of the reasons behind them, and of US discussion and debate about those policies. 4) It speaks well for the United States that it provides such a needed information service. 5) It speaks well for the United States that it would provide a news service that includes all the day’s events, including those that might be unfavorable to the government. 6) Authoritative, accurate, and objective news is necessary for the development of democracy, and for the maintenance of young democracies.
The United States has a substantial public diplomacy effort in the State Department. That is where advocacy should be employed to advance U.S. interests. Public diplomacy and international broadcasting are complementary.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
In her questions for the witnesses, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) expressed her support for Radio and TV Martí, a subject of interest to her constituency. She also asked if VOA can fill the information “vacuum” in Venezuela and Ecuador.
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen should find out what media research says about any such information vacuum in those two countries. Is CNN en Español available there? Is it being watched? Is it reporting in sufficient detail about Venezuela and Ecuador? Keep in mind that CNN en Español provides the hemisphere with a 24-hour news service at no cost to the US taxpayers. I thought conservatives preferred private sector initiatives, but, no, here they go again, trying to increase the size of government.
As acting chair of the committee (Rep. Royce having stepped out), Rep. Ros-Lehtinen closed the hearing with a sternly inflected admonition: "I again remind our witnesses, our audiences, and members that the mission of the Broadcasting Board of Governors is, quote, 'to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy,' end quote. This is broadcast for freedom and democracy. If you think that this is an impartial broadcasting, then you are not fulfilling your mission, because you are supposed to stand for freedom and democracy. That is the direction, that is what the BBG is supposed to do. We don't have to change the mission. We have to change the folks who are in charge of the programming who don't have any idea what their mission is. So, this is an important mission, it's of great interest to this committee, support for freedom and democracy. Amen."
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen thus warned U.S. international broadcasting, including, presumably, its journalists, not to commit the sin of impartiality. And, significantly, she used the BBG’s own mission statement as ammunition in her assault on the BBG firewall.
This is the BBG’s mission statement: “To inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.”
When this new mission statement was unveiled in 2011, I had a sinking feeling. The first thing to know about international broadcasting is that the audience for international broadcasting is seeking news that is more accurate, balanced, and objective than the news they get from their government controlled domestic media. The new mission statement, unlike its predecessor, does not mention “accurate, balanced, and objective”. In fact, it does not even mention “news.” It does include the verb “inform,” but there are many ways to inform. An advertisement for an automobile dealership informs, but it is hardly accurate, balanced, and objective.
I wrote that the wording of the new mission statement “could cause confusion among audiences, and among the employees of USIB.” But it is also confusing members of Congress, and why shouldn’t it? It mentions “support of freedom and democracy” but nowhere mentions accurate, balanced, and objective news.
The mission statement has not only confused members of Congress, it has incited them to dissolve the BBG firewall and move USIB towards the advocacy role that corresponds with the words in the mission statement.
And isn’t it fascinating that this momentum towards advocacy comes just as the domestic dissemination prohibition of the Smith-Mundt Act has been lifted, and the BBG is informing U.S. domestic media outlet how to access its content. Fear of domestic propaganda was one of the premises of the prohibition. Somewhere from the Great Beyond, the late Senators Alexander Smith and Karl Mundt may be trying to tell us: we told you so.
The battle for the soul of US international broadcasting
If and when Obama nominee Jeff Shell is appointed as the new BBG’s new chairman, the first thing he should do is jettison the BBG’s unfortunate mission statement. He should also bring in people who can explain the concept of international broadcasting in terms that Washington decision makers, think tank fellows, writers and commentators understand.
With press freedom deteriorating throughout the world, there is a greater global need for accurate, balanced, and objective news. USIB is poised to be the world’s leading multilingual news service. To achieve this requires the consolidation called for by Enders Wimbush and the journalistic independence articulated by Jeffrey Hirschberg. The BBG must decide, unambiguously, that it is in the business of accurate, balanced, and objective news, and not in the advocacy business. This intention should be proclaimed in plain language to Washington, to the American people, and to the world.
The battle for the soul of U.S. international broadcasting has been joined. The outcome will determine whether USIB does news or propaganda, whether it is market based or centrally planned, and whether it will have an audience, or not.
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