Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Broadcasting Board Chief Dismisses Story that Trump Would Co-Opt His Agency

Charles S. Clark,

Image from article, with caption: "BBG does not do propaganda," said CEO and Director John Lansing.

Reporting earlier this year suggesting that the Trump administration might impose its brand on U.S. international broadcasting “is not true and came from a reporter’s imagination,” John Lansing, CEO and director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, said on Monday.
“It was not sourced to anyone at the White House, and they didn’t call me” or the Voice of America director. “Everything in the story is incorrect,” he told a panel marking the May 3 World Press Freedom Day at The George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs.
Because of the “firewall” in the BBG’s charter, Lansing said, White House politicization of such outlets as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty “would be illegal. If there were pressure on the board, the first person to raise his hand would be me.”
The BBG is playing a key role in countering “fake news” and “the “weaponization of information,” Lansing added, citing the Russian strategy “that goes beyond a false narrative to where there’s no such thing as a verifiable fact and the audience has no way to trust or debate on a realistic level.” The BBG’s move into social media is challenged by the “thousands of Internet trolls who flood the zone with not just distortions but outright false narratives,” he said.
But the “BBG does not do propaganda,” despite suggestions from some that it change, he said. [JB emphasis] “If we did, we would no longer have the credibility we earned over 75 years.  The only way to counter 1,000 bots is if we hold up our [credibility] and the trust of our audience.”
Addressing the symposium --which highlighted the dangers of overseas journalism and featured a recent VOA exclusive and fact-checked video showing the horrors of the occupation of a part of Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram -- was D. Bruce Wharton, acting undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs. “Freedom of the press we often see as a distinctly American value, but often take for granted,” he said. “The exchange of ideas is a foundation for accountable government.”
Wharton said he was “proud to represent” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, recalling his comments on his first day this January stressing that the department values “accountability, honesty and respect” while earning the “trust of the public.”
But panelist Elise Labott, the global affairs correspondent for CNN who raised the concern about Trump turning the BBG into “a tool” for its own narrative, asked: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we started with the secretary of State?” She cited indications from Tillerson’s style that “we don’t need the media, and we don’t need to explain U.S. policy to the American people,” calling the approach “fundamentally damaging to U.S. democracy.”
Moderator Frank Sesno, formerly of VOA and CNN and now director of the GW center, said President Trump’s characterization of the press as “the enemy of the people enables others [overseas] to say it as fact.”
Michael Oreskes, senior vice president of news and editorial director at NPR, said he found more danger in Trump’s portrayal of the media as “the opposition party.” Though other presidents have attacked the press, he noted, “This is an effort to make us a combatant in the information war.”
Oreskes said he believes in the press’s fundamental role lies in “establishing verifiable facts, but we’re also trying now to learn to accept that part of the world doesn’t accept the rules of the game.”
Lansing stressed that “we’re in a tough battle in a war of information. Look at the role of Russia in our last election--everyone agrees it happened,” he said. He denied that BBG needs to reassess its mission, saying, “It is not standing still.” He cited its new Russian language channel and noted that the BBG overall has gained 52 million in its audience last year and has set up a 28-point checklist to gauge impact on local situations beyond mere ratings.
“Press freedom is starting to erode in many places.” Lansing said. “It is important not just for us to be free, but to project the meaning of that freedom that is fundamental to our democracy and civilization.”


JB note: Walter Isaacson, former BBG chairman (2010-2012) on the Declaration of Independence: "[The] Declaration of Independence is, in effect, a work of propaganda ­­or, to put it more politely, an exercise in public diplomacy intended to enlist other countries to the cause." (from a July 4, 2004 New York Times article by Isaacson, "A Declaration of Mutual Dependence."

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