Monday, March 19, 2018

U.S. government's media agency targets Russian disinformation and Iranian censorship

WASHINGTON - The Broadcasting Board of Governors this week recognized the accomplishments and progress made by U.S. international media. The BBG--the federal agency that oversees all U.S. civilian international media--prioritizes advancing the President's National Security Strategy, promotes democracy and freedom around the world, and pushes back on state-sponsored disinformation and extremism. CEO and Director John F. Lansing, who was hired by the board in September 2015, to maximize impact, also presented agency achievements and discussed a roadmap for the future.

By providing objective, accurate and reliable news and information to some of the world's most information-starved places, the BBG and its five networks--Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN)--are leading efforts across the U.S. government to counter Russian disinformation, as well as extremist rhetoric. 

Data-Driven Approach to Targeting Key Audiences: CEO Lansing's first decisions included prioritizing resources to advance U.S. national security priorities and developing an impact model to measure effectiveness beyond reach. Target audiences include Russia and the Russian periphery, North Korea, China, Iran, and Cuba, as well as those facing violent extremism. The BBG's 2018-2022 Strategic Plan details steps the agency and its five networks are taking to advance these objectives, expand its reach to 500 million in global audiences and build partnerships in the private sector. 

Countering Russia Disinformation: CEO Lansing and the Board directed VOA and RFE/RL to create the agency's signature accomplishment--Current Time, a 24/7 Russian-language news channel, and to add or expand more than 35 new programs to reach Russian speakers worldwide with balanced, accurate, topical, and trustworthy information. Within 12 months Current Time has reached more than 400 million digital views, with half coming from within Russia. 

Enabling New Voices in Iran: Building upon the success of Current Time and credibility of the VOA and RFE/RL Persian brands, BBG leadership is months away from launching a 24/7 cross-platform Farsi-language channel, capitalizing on the overwhelming engagement with BBG networks during their coverage of the recent Iran protests

Spotlight on North Korea: Reflecting President Trump's priority on bringing stability to the Korean Peninsula, BBG leadership has increased production and distribution of content to North Korea, one of the most media-restrictive countries in the world. 

Countering Violent Extremist Rhetoric: Since its launch in 2015, MBN's Raise Your Voicecampaign has become a popular platform for citizens to discuss and engage on topics that underlie the appeal of ISIS and extremist ideology. In addition, MBN continues to transform into a world-class leader in Arabic-language news and other content. 

Innovative + World Class Editorials: VOA has kicked off a weekly interview show hosted by globally recognized Greta van Susteren and continues to augment the number of editorials and interviews provided by senior Administration officials to the BBG networks. 

Ensuring Internet Freedom and Combating Censorship: CEO Lansing solidified BBG as a leader in internet freedom by recognizing it as a priority and creating the Office of Internet Freedom (OIF). As governments from Turkey to Iran and China try to shut down media outlets, OIF is allowing citizens to consume accurate, fact-based reporting. 

Management Reforms and Modernization: BBG leadership is aggressively implementing the President's management priorities of effectiveness, efficiency and accountability. This includes strategically decreasing the number of federal employees, pursuing a reorganization to increase effectiveness, evaluating possible efficiencies that could be gained through consolidating certain functions across the networks, and exploring a headquarters move that would save taxpayer money and modernize production facilities for improved operations.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency, supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international media, whose mission is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG networks include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti). BBG programming has a measured audience of 278 million in more than 100 countries and in 58 languages.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Partisan Tensions Bubble Over at BBG, VOA as Trump Delays Naming New Leaders

Susan Crabtree,; via JM -- Many thanks!; original article contains links.

Image (not of/by the USA Broadcasting Board of Governors) from, with caption: BBG!, an Album by ベボガ! [Beboga!]. Released December 13, 2017 on Mastard

Conservative critics complain that BBG’s $684 million budget is being used to undermine Trump’s agenda at home and abroad

President Donald Trump's more-than-one-year delay in naming new leadership at the Broadcasting Board of Governors and its flagship broadcasting service, the Voice of America, is fueling fierce internal battles over the direction of its coverage and criticism from conservatives that the $684 million BBG budget is being used to undermine Trump's policies at home and abroad.

Aware of the turmoil within the BBG-controlled agencies, the White House last year planned to tap Michael Pack, a senior fellow and past president of the Claremont Institute and its Claremont Review of Books, to run the BBG, according to two government officials and outside sources.

However, Pack, a documentary filmmaker who previously served as a Corporation for Public Broadcasting executive, has been unable to take the post because he is working on a film about the life of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The Thomas film would pose conflict-of-interest issues with leading the BBG, the sources said.

The Thomas film is still far from complete, delaying Pack's potential nomination. The Senate would then likely take several months more to confirm him to the post, meaning that new Trump appointed leadership at the BBG could be a year or more away.

Pack also has ties to former White House advisor Steve Bannon and was thought to have his blessing for the role. Pack and Bannon worked on two documentaries together, and Pack wrote an op-ed for the Federalist last year praising Bannon as a pioneer in documentary filmmaking.

With Trump's excommunication of Bannon early this year, it is unclear if Pack is still the top contender for the post or if the White House has moved on to other candidates or decided not to make filing the post a top priority.

The White House did not respond to an inquiry about Pack or the broader BBG turmoil.

A spokesman for the Claremont Institute, where Pack remains a senior fellow, said only: "Out of respect for the selection and nomination process, which is still ongoing, Mr. Pack would like to refrain from comment at this time."

Those who support the current VOA practice of trying to emulate mainstream commercial cable outlets are worried that the Trump administration could get too involved in the BBG and its outlets could become a mouthpiece for his administration reducing their reputation for independence and fairness throughout the world.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow early last year warned that a retooled VOA with a Trump appointee could become a "state-run media operation" and a megaphone for Trump's policies abroad.

With the Obama appointees remaining in place for more than a year, tensions are bubbling over within the BBG as conservative-leaning current and former employees, some of whom joined the organization as a way to fight back against totalitarian regimes, continue to bristle at what they argue is the VOA's negative coverage of the Trump administration's signature policies.

The critics often voice their opposition to management decisions on, which is produced by unpaid volunteers, including many current and former employees. The website says its mission is to "restore good management and sharp news focus to taxpayer-funded American media outreach abroad."

With an annual budget of roughly $684 million, down from its high of $787 million in fiscal year 2017, the broadcasting board controls U.S.-taxpayer-funded media outlets like Voice of America (VOA), and Radio Free Europe, which are intended to counter propaganda from repressive regimes with coverage that promotes freedom and democracy worldwide.

Several conservative critics, including a former VOA director during the Bush administration, say the organization has lost its way, and VOA coverage now reflects the same anti-Trump bias you would find in the New York Times or Washington Post or on CNN—only in this case it's taxpayer-funded and directed at an international audience.

"The Trump agenda keeps getting slammed left and right," one government official told the Washington Free Beacon. "Why is the VOA acting like it's part of the resistance and opposition to Trump? That is not part of the VOA's charter or mission."

Recent headlines from include: "Crackdown Sparks Fear in LA Immigrant Communities," "Trapped: Diasporas from Travel Ban-Affected Countries Reflect One Year Later," and "Trump Challenges Justice Department Tradition of Independence."

After Trump's state of the union address, the VOA's coverage featured a large photo of a "Dreamer" immigrant with her hand over her mouth for a story with the headline: "Trump Promotes Immigration Reforms, Democrats Reject His Policy as ‘Heartless.'"

A month before the presidential campaign, the BBG's Ukrainian service posted online an unedited video, with subtitles and the VOA logo, of Robert DeNiro unloading on Trump, calling him a "dog," a "pig" and a "con." It was not part of a larger story, and the Ukrainian service removed it after criticism.

Last year, three VOA employees were suspended and threatened with firing for conducting an interview with a controversial Chinese dissident, which the Free Beacon first reported. The chief of VOA's China division, one of those suspended, said VOA leadership in Washington was caving to pressure from the Chinese government.

Stories on the VOA website Friday included "New Blackout Hitting Puerto Rico Amid Funding Worries," "White House Facing Rumors About Top Security Aide’s Exit," and an aggregated Washington Post story about First Lady Melania Trump’s immigration to the U.S. on a merit-based "Einstein Visa" that criticized Trump over his opposition to "chain-migration" because of her parents' process of becoming U.S. citizens based on Melania Trump's green-card status.

Critics are training their fire on Amanda Bennett, the VOA's director. Bennett was a Pulitzer-Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter before going on to edit the Philadelphia Inquirer. She also has served as a top editor at the Oregonian and a columnist at the Washington Post.

She is the author of several books, including The Man Who Stayed Behind, a biography she wrote with Sidney Rittenberg about his experience as a U.S. Army serviceman who was sent to China in the 1940s and became a member of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman Mao Zedong's inner circle

Bennett, who is married to Donald Graham, the former publisher of the Washington Post and the son of legendary publisher Kay Graham, was appointed as VOA director by President Barack Obama in April 2016 with the support of BBG Director John Lansing. Lansing, who previously served nine years at president of Scripps Networks, joined the BBG in 2015.

Bennett has tweeted out several of the headlines that have stoked conservative ire on her official @VOADirector Twitter account and posted several of them on her Facebook page. Bennett’s recent Facebook post linking to the story about Los Angeles immigrants drew criticism on BBGWatch.

The anonymous critic accused the VOA of failing to abide by the organization's charter to provide reporting that is "accurate, objective and comprehensive."

"There is almost never any discussion in these one-sided VOA reports about the rule-of-law issues or comparisons to how other countries treat their illegal immigrants, which is far worse than what the U.S. has done," the critic wrote. "There is usually no mention in these VOA reports that U.S. immigration laws, which illegal immigrants violate, were passed by both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress" nor that "these laws have been enforced by both Republican and Democratic presidents and administrations, including President Obama's administration, which conducted similar arrests of some illegal immigrants."

Cuban dissidents and exiles in Miami last year waged such a fierce campaign against what they regarded as pro-normalization coverage at the BBG's Radio and TV Marti during the Obama years and in the first months of the Trump administration, that the woman who ran those operations resigned in June.

"It was totally co-opted and seized by the administration in the service of that normalization process, and that was a tragedy—a distortion," Jose Cardenas, a former State Department official during the George W. Bush administration who now consults on Latin American issues, told the Free Beacon. "I understand why people are impatient and frustrated that a new direction has not been set at the VOA and BBG as a whole."

Marcell Felipe, a lawyer for Miami-based America Teve, a Spanish-language TV station in Miami, is calling on Trump to install new leaders at the BBG and VOA immediately.

Felipe, who also runs the Miami-based Inspire America Foundation, which takes a hardline in opposition of the Catsro government, helped lead the Miami-based campaign to oust the Obama-appointed head of Radio and TV Marti's governing organization, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.

"What needs to be done is personnel changes—that's where the growing frustration is now, and it's about to burst," Felipe said in an interview.

A BBG spokeswoman defended the coverage under Bennett's leadership and argued that it adheres to the VOA charter.

"In accordance with the VOA charter, VOA ‘will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news.' VOA will be accurate, objective and comprehensive," the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. "Our mission involves providing news and information to overseas audiences in accordance with the highest standards of journalism. Our journalists cover all sides of U.S. policy, including this issue [of immigration policy]."

Critics of the coverage argue that Trump is wasting a unique opportunity to remove top Obama appointees who continue to lead the organization and install stalwart conservatives or candidates committed to nonpartisan coverage and the BBG's mission of "connecting people around the world in support of freedom and democracy."

Congress passed a provision in the 2016 defense authorization bill that disbanded the part-time bipartisan board that served as a check on the BBG director and gave full power to the CEO to control all of the agencies that fall under its umbrella, including VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Radio and TV Marti, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

Robert Reilly, a former VOA director during the George W. Bush administration penned an op-ed last year for the Wall Street Journal, pointing out that "information warfare is being waged against the U.S. by the Islamic State, China, and Russia." He encouraged Trump to take advantage of the BBG’s broader power to nominate "someone to lead the Voice of America who knows how to fight such wars—just as well as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis knows how to fight kinetic ones."

"Together, they could win," he concluded.

Trump’s North Korea gambit blindsides U.S. diplomats

Paul Sonne and John Hudson,; original article contains links and videos; see also.

image from

President Trump’s high-wire gambit to accept a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sets off a scramble among U.S. officials to assemble a team capable of supporting a historic summit of longtime adversaries and determine a viable engagement strategy. ...

“We are very comfortable that if the negotiations occur, we will have the best negotiators representing the United States,” said Steven Goldstein, under secretary of state for public diplomacy [JB emphasis]and public affairs. ...

The Enlarged Meeting of the Steering Committee of the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Program Held in Beijing
On March 6, 2018, the enlarged meeting of the Steering Committee of the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Program was held in Beijing. Secretary General of the Chinese Follow-up Committee of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Director of the Steering Committee of the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Program and Director-General of the Department of African Affairs of the Foreign Ministry Dai Bing chaired the meeting. He introduced the current situation in Africa and China's work toward Africa. About 60 people attended the meeting, including principal of the Department of West Asian and North African Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, and heads, experts and scholars from member units of the Steering Committee of the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Program as well as from 30 domestic research institutes of African studies.
The meeting summarized the implementation progress of the annual project of the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Program in 2017 and mapped out the implementation schemes in 2018. The meeting stressed that centering closely on implementing the spirit of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Program in 2018 should be carried out in line with the central task of well hosting the FOCAC Beijing Summit. It is hoped that relevant academic institutes, experts and scholars can give play to their own advantages, fully participate in various activities of the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Program, actively provide constructive suggestions for well holding the FOCAC Beijing Summit, conduct public diplomacy [JB emphasis] on their own initiative, and pool the wisdom and efforts of everyone, in a bid to contribute to the success of the Summit.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Trouble With Talk of Kim Yo-Jong's 'Charm Offensive'

The Diplomat

Image from article, with caption: "Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, arrives at Jinbu KTX Station in PyeongChang, South Korea."

“The nice Princess of Pyongyang.”

“Pyongyang’s PR Queen.”

The woman who “turns on the charm.”

These are just a handful of the phrases deployed by Western media outlets to portray Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, during her high-profile attendance at the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea from February 9-11.

The use of such terms is far from innocuous. It reflects how women in foreign policy are often represented as more peaceful, passive, and unthreatening than their male counterparts. Who, for instance, has never heard the axiom that a world led by women would be fundamentally more peaceful and stable? While debate rages among academics on the varying factors that may or may not make women more peaceful leaders, such stereotypes are all too often projected onto women, irrespective of their actual actions, intentions, or behavior.

Take Kim Yo-jong as an example. Despite her senior role as deputy director of the state propaganda agency in one of the world’s most repressive and authoritarian regimes, and the fact that little is actually known about her, media outlets cast her as an unthreatening, passive, and charming woman. Many fixated on her physical appearance and demeanor, going so far as to speculate on her pregnancy.

While some writers have since criticized the media frenzy, arguing that we should resist fawning over Kim Yo-jong, few pointed to gender stereotypes that underpinned this admiration. By overlooking these assumptions, however, we fail to expose the highly gendered nature of mainstream accounts of women in international relations and foreign policy.

Seeing women as natural peacemakers has a long history across cultures and continents. Through various processes of socialization, men and women are often associated with gender-specific traits: men are viewed as strong, aggressive, rational, and courageous; women are seen as passive, peaceful, emotional, charming, and seductive. These binary distinctions contribute to men and women’s unequal treatment, not least in the male-dominated realm of foreign policy.

Manifestations of strict gender identities have been recurring throughout the Korean Peninsula crisis, not least with U.S. President Donald Trump’s boasts of possessing a “much bigger” and “more powerful” nuclear button than his North Korean counterpart. Gender bias is also found in media portrayals of Kim Jong-un and his sister, with the former depicted as an irrational, violent megalomaniac, while the latter’s “charm offensive” conquers the hearts and minds of South Korea.

Likewise, it is no coincidence that Trump and Kim Jong-un both chose to send close female relatives to the Olympic Games, likely in a bid to soften the public images of their respective countries. Ivanka Trump’s arrival at the closing ceremony was first and foremost ceremonial, and seen by some as an attempt to counterweight the coverage of Kim Yo-jong. It demonstrates the potential for stereotypes to be deployed by men in power for public diplomacy objectives [JB emphasis].

These stereotypes are powerful and can profoundly shape the way we think and act. If we leave unquestioned the media narratives that reflect them, it will serve to maintain the sort of social hierarchies that contribute to ostracizing women from the realms of global politics and diplomacy, where traditional notions of masculinity – such as might, violence, and power – have historically prevailed.

By relying on such highly gendered representations of women, the media reproduces and perpetuates assumptions that underpin the gender inequality pervading global politics. It narrows the space at the top of the foreign policy realm not only for alternative policy proposals, but also for women and men alike who do not fit a narrow typecast.

One of the stated aims of International Women’s Day is to press for progress on gender parity. In this sense, achieving equal treatment in foreign policy partly requires an understanding that the historical underrepresentation of women in diplomacy is closely linked to how gender stereotypes are constructed and maintained in mainstream media.

Identifying and questioning the biases that shape television, print, and online narratives will likely help women shed the stereotypical projections that endanger their fair treatment.

Antoine Got and Danny Anderson hold Master degrees in International Relations and International Studies & Diplomacy, respectively. The views expressed here are their own.

REMINDER: Propoganda [sic] is legal in the US after the repeal of Smith-Mundt act.

Anonymous ID [...]

uncaptioned image from entry

REMINDER: Propoganda [sic] is legal in the US after the repeal of Smith-Mundt act.

But for BBG officials, the references to Pentagon propaganda efforts are nauseating, particularly because the Smith-Mundt Act never had anything to do with regulating the Pentagon, a fact that was misunderstood in media reports in the run-up to the passage of new Smith-Mundt reforms in January.

One example included areportby the lateBuzzFeedreporter Michael Hastings, who suggested that the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act would open the door to Pentagon propaganda of U.S. audiences. In fact, as amended in 1987, the act only covers portions of the State Department engaged in public diplomacy abroad (i.e. the public diplomacy section of the "R" bureau, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.) [JB emphasis]

But the news circulated regardless, much to the displeasure of Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), a sponsor of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012. "To me, it’s a fascinating case study in how one blogger was pretty sloppy, not understanding the issue and then it got picked up by Politico‘s Playbook, and you had one level of sloppiness on top of another,"Thornberry told The Cable last May. "And once something sensational gets out there, it just spreads like wildfire."

That of course doesn’t leave the BBG off the hook if its content smacks of agitprop. But now that its materials are allowed to be broadcast by local radio stations and TV networks, they won’t be a complete mystery to Americans. "Previously, the legislation had the effect of clouding and hiding this stuff," the former U.S. official told The Cable. "Now we’ll have a better sense: Gee some of this stuff is really good. Or gee some of this stuff is really bad. At least we’ll know now."

Global Ties Announces Katherine Brown as President and CEO

Global Ties

Brown image from entry

Katherine Brown, Ph.D., former Executive Director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy [JB emphasis], to lead Global Ties, the largest and oldest citizen diplomacy network in the United States.
WASHINGTON, DC—Global Ties U.S., a nonprofit that makes international exchange programs more effective by fostering deep connections between current and future leaders, announced today Katherine Brown, Ph.D., as the organization's incoming President and CEO, effective April 9, 2018.
Katherine brings a wealth of experience from the media, nonprofit, and academic sectors, as well as the U.S. government. She is highly regarded in the international affairs and public diplomacy arena as a strategic, forward-thinking leader.

Jacquelyn G. Shipe, Chair of the Global Ties U.S. Board of Directors, affirmed, "Katherine is uniquely positioned to continue moving Global Ties U.S. and the Global Ties Network forward on the path of impact, growth, and sustainability. Her leadership will strengthen our member organizations, programs, and services, while making the case to increase investment in our global engagement efforts."

From 2013-2016, Katherine Brown served as Executive Director of the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, a body authorized by Congress to oversee and promote U.S. government activities that intend to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics. Most recently, she has been a Public Policy Manager at Facebook, Inc. where she was also in residence as a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow.

Previously, she held numerous roles in government, including assistant to the White House national security adviser; communications adviser for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul; and professional staff member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs at the U.S. House of Representatives.

Katherine also served on the boards of the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California and the Global Ties Foundation. She is a non-resident senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University. She received her Ph.D. and M.A. in communications from Columbia University and B.A. from the George Washington University.

"Katherine's understanding of the intersection of global communications, government, and national security adds tremendous gravitas to the mission of the Foundation that seeks to bring innovation to international exchanges and public diplomacy efforts. Her passion and experience for our organization's shared vision—a peaceful, prosperous world where individuals build enduring relationships through international exchange—will serve as a powerful platform that will carry our work to great heights," said Kyle Moyer, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Global Ties Foundation and former Chair of the Global Ties U.S. Board.

The Board of Directors deeply appreciates the commitment and leadership of the members of the Executive Search Committee, led by Peggy Parfenoff, President of WorldChicago and member of the Global Ties U.S. Board of Directors, for managing a comprehensive and competitive search over the past several months.

Additionally, the Board acknowledges the work of Daniel Valle, Chief Operating Officer, for his stewardship, as well as the Global Ties U.S. staff for their dedication to the organization during this period of transition.

The leadership and staff of Global Ties U.S. look forward to working in close partnership with Katherine to further the organization's vision while promoting and strengthening the individuals and organizations that comprise the Global Ties Network.

As President and CEO of Global Ties U.S., Katherine Brown will also serve as the President and CEO of the Global Ties Foundation. 
Global Ties U.S. is a nonprofit that makes international exchange programs more effective. We work with our members and the U.S. Department of State to bring current and future leaders from around the world to communities across the United States. Together, we build deep connections among people from many countries, resulting in a more peaceful, prosperous world.

The Global Ties Foundation is the charitable arm of Global Ties U.S. It seeks to empower a network of global influencers by accelerating innovation in international exchange.



Daniel Bremer-Wirtig
Director, External Affairs
Global Ties U.S.
Mobile: 202.494.2383