- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

For people who care about America’s image around the world, these are trying times. Ever since the Board of Broadcasting Governors (BBG) was created, the problems surrounding public diplomacy in general and the Voice of America (VOA) in particular have intensified. Isn’t it time that the powers that be understand that and do something about it? BBG is the problem, not the solution.

This has nothing to do with a Republican-Democratic debate. Both parties are equally guilty. Both started the square ball rolling during the Clinton administration; both have an equal number of part-time governors on the BBG. Both have supporters in Congress. One only has to attend some congressional committee meetings on the subject to realize that most of the committee members have no idea what they are talking about.

Countless studies have been issued on how to improve VOA and public diplomacy. Some of them have been very good, like “The Sound of Silence” by the Heritage Foundation.

Yet BBG is deaf. It must have a macabre research engine and just plain dumb members to plan to eliminate VOA’s Georgian service 12 days before the Russian invasion (Aug. 8) after - get this - shutting down all on-air VOA Russian radio broadcasts July 26. The BBG claim that the semi-private Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) can do a better job is abysmal precisely because that service is “semiprivate” and its journalists, mostly Russian citizens, are in grave danger from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s secret police. (The International Federation of Journalists says 292 Russian journalists have been killed or have disappeared since 1990.) How many more journalists have to be killed before the BBG wakes up?

The Heritage Foundation study correctly says that BBG has no clearly defined objectives. Its governors think in terms of American broadcasting. That is a basic mistake. They have embraced the mass-audience concept when a targeting strategy is needed.

Instead of continually trying to destroy VOA, the BBG should be reconstituted as the pillar of American public diplomacy, with a new U.S. Information Agency-style umbrella. Nothing needs to be “like in the old days,” but new technologies should be used in the service of American interests rather than the other way around. As the Heritage Foundation study says, U.S. international broadcasting should “provide uncensored news, explain U.S. foreign policy and tell America’s story.”

Only then will we be back in business.

VELLO EDERMA

Springfield

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