Monday, December 14th 2015
In an article in this month's Foreign Policy, former VOA Director David Ensor writes that U.S. public diplomacy "is important but the effort is far too modest."
"Recently the Pentagon, unhappy that the State Department’s anti-terrorism recruiting effort is so limited, obtained a green light from Congress to launch an effort of its own, written into the2016 Defense Authorization Act. That is not a bad thing: The Pentagon can add much greater resources both to disrupt the Islamic State’s online activities and to countermessage against their recruiters. But the work should be coordinated at a high level, and should be under civilian control.
"Teams in the Arab world should be funded to follow the Islamic State and al Qaeda affiliates on every possible chat room and website, countering their appeals in real time. And the communication should all be done by Arab partners in the region, not by Washington.
"Overall, since public diplomacy programs moved to the State Department in 1999, they have suffered from budget cuts and leadership turnover. It’s a sad reality that public diplomacy efforts tend not to be valued by the State Department as highly as conventional diplomacy. In the digital age, that thinking is out of date.
"There has also been a shortage of clarity and resources over at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which was established as USIA closed, to oversee U.S. broadcasting and media, including the Voice of America (VOA). In January 2013, Secretary Hillary Clinton didn’t mince words about what she thought of its efforts, telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the BBG was “practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world.”
"Now, some three years later, it’s clear that the nine part-time appointees that comprise the BBG should never have been asked to run a complex group of media companies — part Federal, part independent grantees — through a period of rapid change in global media. Though the bipartisan board was needed to create a firewall protecting the independence of the journalism from interference by policymakers, it was often unable to play an effective executive decision-making role. As a result, there was a damaging period of policy drift, bureaucratic rivalry, and budget cuts. It did not help that there were long periods when the board was not complete — positions were left empty by the White House and Senate, sometimes for over a year.
"Fortunately, BBG Chairman Jeff Shell and the current board understand the structural problem and what to do about it. The BBG’s recent appointment of a full-time chief executive officer for U.S. international media is an excellent first step. But CEO John Lansing, a seasoned media manager, needs legislation giving him clear authority over all budgets and personnel. A proposal in the House of Representatives (HR 2323) could actually make things worse, accentuating the rivalry and competition for resources by placing VOA under a different board and CEO than its three smaller sister entities: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.
"Despite the problems and even though its budget has declined in real dollars, VOA’s audience over the last four years has increased 40 percent from 134 million to almost 188 million in over 45 languages. In a world where broadcasters like RT, formerly Russia Today, peddle half-truths, spin, and disinformation, journalism done with the old-fashioned goals of objectivity and balance is more important than ever."
You can read the entire article at http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/12/14/how-washington-can-win-the-information-war/
The article is adapted from Ensor's paper, "Exporting the First Amendment: Strengthening U.S. Sodt [sic] Power through Journalism," which is on line at http://shorensteincenter.org/exporting-the-first-amendment-david-ensor/