- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
Why Should Our Tax Dollars Pay for ‘Journalism with an Edge’?
The June 26, 2013 U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the foreign language broadcast services funded by the United States government offered an imperfect example of Washington political elites successfully sidestepping the obvious. What most of the participants wanted to talk about was reorganizing entities like Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, possibly by turning them over the State Department; adding language broadcasts like Ibo and Sindhi; eliminating existing language broadcasts in Greek; eliminating the 23 duplications of language services such as Russian, Spanish and Burmese; and the failure of the Persian News Network to cover the most recent presidential election in Iran. Inevitably, anti-Castro, Cuban-American Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen offered comments in defense of Radio Marti.
Only one of the participants dared to probe the problem that producing propaganda undermines the journalistic credibility of a news source. Democratic New York Rep. Elliott Engel asked two important questions: “Is there any common ground on the overarching mission of U.S. international broadcasting? Is it possible for broadcasters to provide authoritative, accurate and objective news while at the same time advancing U.S. interests?”
None of the three testifying witnesses or committee members offered a convincing formula for transcending that contradiction. Former Broadcasting Board of Governors member Enders Wimbush responded gamely that the broadcasting by the various entities should be “journalism with an edge.” Right. Well, perhaps euphemisms become indistinguishable from resolutions when you have been lost in the gray zone between journalism and propaganda long enough.
What went completely unchallenged during the hearing was the assumption that the U.S. government must continue to fund foreign language broadcasts about its foreign policy views with its own propaganda organization. Much of what was said in defense of the curiously un-challenged proposition that such an organization was needed involved praise for the role that Radio Free Europe had performed in weakening Soviet communism. Such views will be of great importance should the Soviet Union return from the grave.
Had they wanted to challenge that assumption they might have asked a question something like this: Given the uncritical reporting of announcements made by the White House and State Department by American news sources, why not simply subsidize broadcasts of relevant portions of their news covered translated into the desired foreign languages? Compare the news reports about the Syrian Civil War from Voice of America with those from National Public Radio or Fox News, and you won’t see any significant differences. Does it really matter whether the entity beating the war drum for U.S. covert and military intervention in that tragedy is a government owned entity, a non-profit entity with commercial endorsements, or a commercial entity? There is absolutely no shortage of journalism with an edge when it comes to reporting the Middle East.
Naturally, there would be competition between the various American news sources for the contracts to broadcast their news in translation. Political fights to favor some over others would be inevitable. Imagine the sort of compromise wherein specific target language populations are distributed among the different American news sources in the same way that British colonial authorities in Sub-Saharan Africa distributed exclusive rights to missionize specific ethnic groups among the Christian denominations. CNN would get Chinese, Fox Farsi, Bloomberg Burmese, etc.
Absurd you say? Well yes… alliteration in sequence is silly and subjecting 110 million Farsi speakers to Fox News would be cruel. However the current arrangement is also absurd. Continuing to operate government owned news/propaganda entities makes no sense in a world where news sources are proliferating across old and new media. Captive foreign audiences hungry for accurate and objective reporting in news broadcasts provided by the U.S. government may be appealing but it is unrealistic.
Organizations sometimes outlive their usefulness. When that happens the proper thing to do is not to find a more efficient way to do what is useless, but to dismantle them.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." -- Matthew 6:21. On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. made public his opposition to the Vietnam War, articulated in his iconic "Beyond Vietnam" speech. Presented at Riverside Church in New York City, "Beyond Vietnam" was the most controversial speech King ever delivered. In it, he confronted head-on America's "triple evils" -- racism, economic injustice, and militarism -- and called for "a radical revolution of values" to restore our nation's integrity. Afterwards, many supporters, black and white, abandoned him for daring to mix the Read on →
The book review I just finished repeatedly asks, “What endures?” The author offers one possible answer: “Spaces in the heart that accommodate the absent.” When I read this, I had just learned of the deaths of Peter Matthiessen and Thomas Polgar. Matthiessen was the prolific writer and author of a multitude of books, including The Snow Leopard, his account of a grief-stricken journey to the Himalayas. Polgar was a legendary CIA officer and the last station chief in Saigon. His final cable from Vietnam quoted Jorge Santayana that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. Both lived full li Read on →
You knew in the beginning it was folly, no good -- like that girl who lived around the corner your Momma said was "fast." “She's gonna take your money and your stomp on your heart,” Momma said. You knew it too ... but you went anyway. YOU You promised yourself you would not get involved this time. You knew all about the probabilities ... the impossibilities, really. You knew all about the odds against success, heard Nate Silver -- or somebody -- use $5 words like “implacable,” “infinitesimal” and “asymptotic” to assure Charlie Rose the odds were ridiculous. And yes, you knew it was a Fool's Notion Read on →
That’s what the spouse said when I wrote him how surprised and disappointed I was to discover that Michelle Nunn has gratuitously endorsed the XL pipeline from Canada, because buying oil from “neighbors” is better than from overseas, as well as to read a report that Nunn wants changes to Obamacare to allow cheaper policies for the young. Like they don’t have car accidents and sports injuries, etc? (Read the other day that there’s a chance auto and workmen’s comp insurance rates are going to decrease now that people have health insurance. Ripple effect). He went on to observe that “Kenny and Tracy hav Read on →