The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) released the following statement on October 8, 2003 in response to the “Changing Minds, Winning Peace,” report by the commission’s Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World.
1. The report demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of U.S. international broadcasting’s mission, which is “to promote and sustain freedom and democracy by broadcasting accurate and objective news and information about the United States and the world to overseas audiences.” The BBG, which oversees all U.S. nonmilitary international broadcasting, is an arm of public diplomacy with a distinct role: to broadcast accurate, fact-based news and information, and to serve as an example of the highest quality of American journalism.
2. The report’s recommendation that U.S. international broadcasting — with the exception of news – be placed under a new Office of the Special Counselor to the President is unwise and unworkable. It’s unwise because it would tear the firewall that separates broadcasters from partisan politics, leading to charges the BBG’s news and information is tainted and not trustworthy. Credibility is the BBG’s stock-in-trade.
3. The report fails to credit Radio Sawa as one of the most innovative public diplomacy initiatives in a generation, reflecting the kind of dramatic new thinking the Advisory Group says is needed to transform America’s image in the Middle East and elsewhere. Radio Sawa, the Arabic-language station, launched in March 2002, has been an unqualified success, attracting millions of listeners. A recent ACNielsen study showed Radio Sawa is the leading international broadcaster in five Middle Eastern countries with 31 percent listenership among the general population, and 42 percent in the all-important 15-29 year group. Moreover, Radio Sawa listeners view the United States more favorably than do non-listeners, Nielsen said.
4. The report ignores Radio Sawa’s news and current affairs content, which is broadcast for up to five hours daily. The station engages its audience with features and interactive programs and provides U.S. officials a means of connecting with people in the region. During the Iraq War, the station provided wall-to-wall coverage of breaking events, including the fall of Baghdad. By controlling transmission, Sawa staff can – and does – increase its daily information content for big stories and breaking news. Without large audiences, America’s voice would be virtually silent. News is delivered in a non-inflammatory fashion, carefully using words and terminology that are not emotional but are fair. According to Nielsen, Radio Sawa is viewed a “reliable” news source by 75 percent of its listeners.
5. The report’s recommendation that the BBG hold off creating an Arabic television network — and consider placing American programs on Arab networks such as Al-Jazeera — is misinformed. Existing, state-owned networks, which frequently broadcast biased, anti-American propaganda, are the problem, not the solution. We must start broadcasting the U.S. viewpoint on American, 24/7 Arabic-language satellite TV.
6. The report calls for a “new culture of measurement” for public diplomacy yet its conclusions and recommendations are based on anecdotes. The report fails to take notice of the fact that Radio Sawa is the most measured program in the history of international broadcasting.
The BBG is an independent federal agency which supervises all U.S. government-supported nonmilitary international broadcasting, including the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL); Radio Free Asia (RFA); Radio and TV Mart