Friday, March 18, 2016

US Senators Call to Counter Russian, Chinese Propaganda

VOA News [includes video] March 17, 2016 5:33 PM; see also below, "US gears up to fight Russian ‘disinformation’ with… disinformation," RT

Portman image from

U.S. Senators Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, and Chris Murphy, a New York Democrat, have introduced a bill aimed at countering propaganda from Russia, China and other countries.

Murphy image from

According to its sponsors, the legislation — called the "Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act” — is aimed at improving the ability of the United States to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation, and help local communities in other countries protect themselves from manipulation from abroad.

Speaking during a conference Wednesday at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based research institute, Portman said he believes the U.S. is not making sufficient efforts to counter "destabilizing" foreign propaganda and disinformation.

"While much of the public discussion of these issues is focused on the urgent need to counter extremist messaging, and I understand that, I think it is equally important to address the extremely sophisticated, comprehensive and long-term efforts by nation states to manipulate and control information in order to achieve their national objectives, often at the expense of U.S. allies; our interests, our values," Portman said. "These countries spend vast sums of money on advanced broadcast and digital media capabilities, targeted campaigns, funding of foreign political movements, and other efforts to influence key audiences and populations.”

According to the Ohio Republican, the scale of spending on the U.S. government's Voice of America, and that of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is funded by the U.S. Congress, is dwarfed by the money spent on RT, a Kremlin-funded satellite TV channel, and the Chinese government's CCTV.

Restructuring encouraged

There also is a need to restructure U.S. counter-propaganda efforts, Portman said.

“Surprisingly," he said, "there is currently no single U.S. governmental agency or department charged with the national level development, integration and synchronization of whole-of-government strategies to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation.”

Murphy said the proposed legislation seeks to restructure U.S. government counter-propaganda efforts to allow for better coordination.

"The simple suggestion in our bill is to have an umbrella strategy that unites all of the different agencies that are playing roles, so that we can have a coordinated strategy."

Kristin Lord, a former acting president of the U.S. Institute of Peace and now CEO of IREX, a non-profit organization that promotes global change, told the conference an important feature of the legislation is that it proposes giving resources to invest in what “credible” local actors are doing in communities around the world.

“Whether it’s counter-propaganda, whether it’s counter-extremism, we just really have to come to terms with the fact the United States government is not always the most credible voice in these debates,” she said. “So we have to invest in the people who are making the credible arguments.”

Proposal for new center

Under the bill, a new Center for Information Analysis and Response would play the coordinating role. This center, Portman said, would be led by the U.S. State Department, but with the "active participation" of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (which oversees VOA and RFE/RL, among others), "the intelligence community and other relevant agencies."

The bill also would set up an Information Access Fund, which would assist in the training of local journalists, as well as award grants and contracts to non-government and civil society organizations, research centers, private sector companies, media organizations and other experts outside the U.S. government that have experience in identifying and analyzing disinformation methods used by foreign governments.

This fund, said Murphy, would "simply seek to seed good information efforts — telling the truth, telling counter-narratives to the Russian story, to the Chinese propaganda stories all around the world."

The legislation, he said, also would "beef up" support of U.S. State Department exchange programs, "which have been so vital to the growing move toward self-determination all around the world."


US gears up to fight Russian ‘disinformation’ with… disinformation, RT

Two US senators are proposing legislation to counter, what they consider to be “disinformation” spread by certain foreign media. What better way to kick-start their campaign than by basing their bill on spurious nonsense?
Republican Senator Rob Portman and his Democratic colleague Chris Murphy are deeply concerned about foreign “propaganda.” They demand that Uncle Sam throws even more money at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which is already given around $768 million annually.
Not content with the EU’s Stratcom East and NATO’s Riga-based communications centre, Portman and Murphy want a new center for Information Analysis and Response to analyze "foreign government information-warfare efforts.”
What better place to launch the crusade than at NATO’s Atlantic Council appendage? An organization funded by such disinterested and neutral parties as the US State Department, Lockheed Martin, the Kingdom of Bahrain and the monarchy of the United Arab Emirates?
Portman certainly couldn’t think of a better venue, so he showed up on Wednesday to express his satisfaction that the “US version of events is better.” This attitude is not a shock. Most of the US elite, and their media champions believe America has a monopoly on truth. Next, Portman warned that Russia, China and other countries are trying to "manipulate and control information to achieve their national goals, often at the expense of the interests and values of America's allies.”
The Senator sounded particularly worried about RT. And it is no wonder. Portman claimed RT spends $400 million a year just for the maintenance of our Washington bureau. Just imagine that? $400 million big ones.
Unfortunately, given that our entire budget for 2016 is 17 billion rubles, or around $248 million in today’s dollars, we have no idea where on earth Portman got this numbers – or if he even believes them. That $248 million pays for the global broadcasting and newsgathering operations of round-the-clock TV channels in English, Arabic and Spanish, documentaries, online portals in six languages, the RT UK channel, and yes, RT America – our stateside outpost. To run all of this RT receives one third of the funding the US government allocates for the BBG. Despite modest means, RT can boast 70 million weekly TV viewers, nearly 50 million monthly unique visitors to our digital platforms and a status as the number one international TV news network on YouTube, with more than 3 billion views.
Amazing, the BBG’S Voice of America (VOA) reported Portman’s $400 million figure without question, and with no apparent fact-checking. The Senator’s – and the supposedly venerated news organization’s he seeks to aid – fight against “disinformation kicks off with a blatant lie. You really can’t make this stuff up.
VOA wasn’t alone, Germany’s own state-broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (DW), also carried Portman’s erroneous sums. DW, of course, is never regarded as propaganda in Washington because the administration in Berlin is not a threat to American interests.
This is despite the fact that it receives government funding – $332 million per year – to communicate its country’s point of view to the world. When RT contacted DW to correct this blatant falsehood, the outlet's editors treated the issue as a “difference of opinion” before eventually adding RT’s budget figure as our own claim, and not the publicly available information that it is, and that has been reported by hundreds of, credible, news outlets.
The BBG, and its supporters, such as Senator Portman, are currently fighting hard in Washington to secure extra resources for their efforts. An intensive campaign has been fought over the past six months to support these objectives. Much of this lobbying has been based on exaggeration and outright lies. Portman's $400 million is one of the most absurd yet. The fact that VOA and DW unquestioningly repeated the deceit speaks volumes. 

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