The Cost of Promoting the American Agenda

There is one U.S. government agency organization that you are unlikely aware of that is playing a key roll in this time of so-called fake news; the Broadcasting Board of Governors or BBG.  This entity is an independent agency of the United States government and is funded by American taxpayers with this mission:

“...to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.

BBG was formed in April of 1994 when President Bill Clinton signed the International Broadcasting Act.  This Act created the International Broadcasting Bureau, bringing together the five civilian broadcast networks that the government has operated for decades:

1.) Voice of America (VOA) which began broadcasting in February 1942.  Its guiding principles are as follows:

a) VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.

b) VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.

c) VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.

2.) Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) which began broadcasting in July 1950.  Its mission is to promote democratic values and institutions by reporting the news in countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.

3.) Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) which began broadcasting in 1985 as Radio Marti and in 1990 as TV Marti.  Its mission is to promote freedom and democracy by providing the people of Cuba with objective news and information programming.

4.) Radio Free Asia (RFA) which began broadcasting in March 1996.  Its mission is to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian nations where governments prohibit access to a free press.

5.) Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) which began broadcasting on its Arabic language stations Alhurra Television and Radio Sawa in 2004.  Its mission is to provide objective, accurate, and relevant news and information to the people of the Middle East about the region, the world, and the United States. MBN supports democratic values by expanding the spectrum of ideas, opinions, and perspectives available in the region’s media.

The International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) was governed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors or BBG which had oversight authority over all international non-military government broadcasting.  Under the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, on October 1, 1999, BBG became an independent, autonomous entity that was responsible for all U.S. government and government-sponsored non-military international broadcasting.  In its own words, BBG serves as “a firewall between U.S. government policymakers and journalists“.  The Board is composed of nine members who are experts in the fields of mass communications, broadcast media or international affairs; eight of the members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate with the ninth member being appointed by the Secretary of State and serving ex officio.  Here are the current members of the Board:

It is interesting to see that current Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is the ninth member of the board, following the lead of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jon Forbes Kerry.  Other than those three Secretaries of State, no other Secretary of State has actually served on the board.  Apparently, it’s a good idea to keep propaganda within the confines of the Washington “family”.

Here is BBG’s current Chief Executive Officer:

Now, let’s look at BBG’s Fiscal Year 2018 Congressional Budget Justification.  Here is a table showing a snapshot of their budget requests for fiscal 2016, 2017 and their request for fiscal 2018:

At just under $685 million, the request for fiscal 2018 is 8.4 percent lower than it was in fiscal 2017.  Note that the budget for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America combined is just under $300 million; please keep this number in mind when you read the next section of this blog.   BBG claims that it provides content in 61 languages to 278 million people in 100 nations around the world.  BBG has 400 employees, 1500 string reporters and 50 news bureaus and its “…extensive network of seasoned, well-respected and well- connected journalists is particularly strong in regions where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Russia, Iran, China, and other global actors that do not share American values are attempting to make further inroads.”

In the Executive Summary of the 2018 Congressional Budget Justification, we find this quote:

Although the funding request represents an 8.4 percent reduction from the FY 2017 annualized CR level, the Administration has prioritized funding for countering Russian misinformation, combatting violent extremism, and enhancing programming for North Korean audiences in this request.”

Obviously, following Washington’s lead, BBG is targeting so-called Russian misinformation as part of its mission for fiscal 2018.  How will it accomplish this goal?

1.) through its Russian Service Radio operation, Russian Svoboda (part of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty).

Here’s what RFE/RL did in 2017:

The Current Time (a Russian-language news network that is available to 10 million households in 12 nations as well as through live streaming on FilmOn.tv and MeGoGo) digital team’s social media videos on news and current affairs issues, a new product for RFE/RL’s broadcast region, were viewed more than 125 million times in the first six months of FY 2017 on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Russian social networks. Last year, one video about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unfulfilled election promises of five years ago became the top trending video on the popular Odnoklassniki social network, receiving more than 5.4 million views across social networks.

2.) through the February 2017 launching of Current Time, a Russian-language news network that aims to counter Russian false news and misinformation throughout Europe and in Russia as shown here:

3.) using VOA Russian to confront Russian disinformation/proganda by focussing on factual information and alternatives.

In one example, VOA opened a Silicon Valley news bureau to cover the ongoing U.S. contributions to the world technology and innovation revolution, one story profiled a Russian-born entrepreneur who told of “the surprising kindness and support of total strangers” in Silicon Valley and of the “stark difference” between America and the environment he left in Russia.

Here is a quote from the document showing how VOA countered Russian propaganda:

VOA expanded television and digital programming from the United States in a daily one-hour Current Time America TV newscast for Russia and the former Soviet Union. The broadcasts, in partnership with RFE/RL, were complemented by a robust digital component that engages and connects with global audiences via social media and other platforms, including Briefing, a daily digest that looks at Russian misreporting about America; Russians in America, a TV documentary series highlighting the lives of everyday Russian immigrants to the U.S.; and Polygraph.info, a

VOA and RFE/RL fact-checking website that separates fact from fiction, adds context and debunks lies. In Eurasia, VOA expanded the number of affiliates it serves with U.S. news to more than 200, to counter Russia’s increased penetration of the Balkans. VOA’s Albanian, Bosnian, Macedonian, Serbian, and Ukrainian services expanded their reporting across broadcast and digital platforms with a particular focus on providing fact- based alternatives, including a hard- hitting documentary series produced by VOA Serbian about the Kremlin’s influence in the country.

In 2018, VOA’s Russian Service will premiere additional Current Time programming to hold discussions with ordinary Americans with roots in Russia about their lives and experiences in the United States.”

Remember that the budget total for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America totalled $300 million?  That gives you some idea of how much Washington is willing to spend to counter Russia’s “disinformation program”.

I think that’s enough information to give you a sense of how serious the United States government is about countering Russian propaganda in fiscal 2018. Let’s close with this quote from the 2018 Congressional Budget Justification:

In a difficult, even hostile, global political and media environment, support for U.S. international broadcasting is a critical component of American power, security, and prosperity. Consistent with America’s commitment to free speech and free expression, the BBG’s networks advance U.S. national interests by providing audiences in closed societies, or where free media is not yet fully established, with consistently accurate and compelling journalism and other content that opens minds and stimulates debate. BBG’s networks demonstrate to the world the values that reflect American society: freedom, openness, and democracy. Societies that embrace these values support U.S. interests because they enjoy greater stability and prosperity, engage more peacefully with their neighbors, more forcefully reject terrorism and extremism, and make better political allies and trade partners for the United States.

Interestingly, from personal experience, in Russia, there are absolutely no restrictions on access to news sites from around the world so Russia can hardly be described as a “closed society” with a “free media that is not yet fully established”.

As you can see from the information that you have read in this posting and given that BBG is extremely closely tied to the U.S. government (in fact, a banner at the top of every BBG webpage looks like this…

…how can anyone believe that Washington is not involved in propagandizing the world with its own version of democracy and freedom.  Most obviously, truth is in the eye of the beholder and, as governments have long known, this is particularly applicable to state-controlled propaganda.  All we need to do is look at the example of Joseph Goebels to see how well propaganda worked on convincing a nation of one version of the “truth”. 

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