Rethinking Our International Broadcasting Policy

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RT, the state run channel formerly known as Russia Today widely seen in the US, is making plans to expand its presence in Europe as reported recently in the Wall Street Journal. There has been considerable turmoil at RT ever since Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine in April, and especially after a Malaysian airliner was shot down in mid-July which prompted several on-air program hosts to resign over slanted coverage.

Receiving far less attention is the current kerfuffle at the Voice of America and related international broadcasting entities funded by the US government and overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). In part as a response to the expanding role of RT in the world, some members of Congress are calling for the Voice of America to be more assertive in supporting American national security interests while also addressing allegations of mismanagement.

Important issues associated with these developments at RT and the VOA were thoughtfully addressed by Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University in 2011 about the need for America to develop an international media service on a par with the BBC, Aljazeera, RT, France 24 and CCTV, among others. The on-going debate about the degree to which broadcasting should be run with or without state involvement has been sparsely debated in the United States. Now is an excellent opportunity to rethink the critical matter of our international broadcasting policy.

The Growing Acceptance of Fake News and What to Do About It

fake-news-invasionWashington Post columnist Dana Milbank recently drew attention to the open investment in fake news as a political strategy. Republicans Embrace Their Phoniness is worth reading for reasons that go beyond the story he cites in the National Journal about the National Republican Congressional Committee launching fake websites to attack Democratic candidates.  It raises the critical issue of the need for quality media criticism and media education accessible by all citizens.

In Flat Earth News, seasoned British journalist Nick Davies makes a compelling case that commercial and political influences on contemporary journalism have become so great that news stories widely known by reporters and editors to be grossly distorted or inaccurate appear with great regularity and are rarely questioned beyond marginal media criticism publications and programs reaching very few news consumers.  When the Columbia Journalism Review recently devoted its cover story to the question, Who Cares If It Is True?, the issue of informed and widely distributed media criticism takes on new urgency.

There was a parallel moment more than forty years ago prompted by President Richard Nixon’s remarkable political paranoia, currently reprised in a spate of new books and programs, which fed his profound distrust of American journalism in general and public broadcasting in particular. As Nixon dispatched Spiro Agnew to publicly challenge the authority of our best newspapers and network TV news operations, several foundations provided support for the little known National News Council, drawing from the experience of news councils in Europe and the tradition at the BBC to thoroughly investigate citizen complaints about its news coverage and programming content.  A driving premise of the NNC was the belief that journalists and editors need to be more open to questions about the stories they produce or fail to cover adequately.

Working collaboratively with the staff of the NNC and newspaper ombudsmen across the country, The Press and the Public Project in 1981 launched the award-winning weekly PBS media criticism series, Inside Story with Hodding Carter as chief correspondent.  Though forced by a lack of sponsorship to cease production in 1986, Inside Story revealed how and why important issues in the news either go uncovered or lack important contextual information, something sorely needed today.  With a variety of digital platforms now available, informed media criticism can help citizens better understand and question the news they receive, especially from the fake news sources reported by the National Journal. The Press and the Public Project is again working to raise public awareness and support for widespread, informed media criticism of the kind it provided in the early 1980s.