Ben Rhodes Outlines Role for International Media, Board Examines RFE/RL and Shortwave

Board members sitting around table

WASHINGTON – The Broadcasting Board of Governors met yesterday in Washington, DC, to examine the activities and accomplishments of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and to explore the agency’s impact and reach in an increasingly competitive media environment.

In remarks to the Board, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting Ben Rhodes reiterated the President’s commitment to U.S. international media.   He commended the historical legacy of the networks while observing that this is a critical juncture for U.S. international media in an increasingly competitive international marketplace.

Rhodes praised the Board for its strategic vision and emphasized the value of international media, saying the BBG and its networks can “significantly strengthen American foreign policy, increase interest in and understanding of priority issues and open access to information where it may be denied or misrepresented.”

“We have the right team in place,” he added, referring to the Board, “to make a lasting contribution.”

Separately, RFE/RL leadership outlined the network’s activities and initiatives in reaching audiences in 28 languages. Nenad Pejic and John Giambalvo, Interim Managers of RFE/RL, led the “deep dive” presentation, which emphasized the network’s forward thinking approach to providing unbiased news and information on multiple distribution platforms to regions affected by war, conflict and authoritarian regimes.

RFE/RL executives, editors and journalists participating via video from Prague, highlighted the network’s achievements in digital and social media, programming, technology, and impact throughout its broadcast regions.

Discussion covered the network’s response to the crisis in Ukraine, including the creation of additional programming, increasing reach through new partnerships, and on-the-scene coverage despite the increasingly dangerous reporting environments.

“I want to commend your efforts to expand the Russian language newscasts,” said Rick Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. “Given the information battlefields we are seeing in Russia and Ukraine, this represents a true realization of your mission.”

In addition to the in-depth look at RFE/RL, the Board held a business meeting, which began with an update on recent threats to BBG journalists. The list, BBG Chairman Jeff Shell lamented, is unfortunately growing and includes death threats, injuries and detainment of BBG journalists in Iraq, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Crimea, Ukraine, Vietnam and South Sudan. Shell also noted the upcoming second anniversary of the disappearance of Alhurra reporter Bashar Fahmi.

Chairman Shell recognized the decades of hard work and dedication of Voice of America’s Greek Service, which ended broadcasts on August 11 as well as the 60th anniversary of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service.

During the business meeting, Director of the Office of Strategy and Development, Bruce Sherman presented an overview of the agency’s 2014 strategic review process which evaluated outcomes and impacts on a country and regional level.

Governor Matt Armstrong, chairman of the Board’s Special Committee on the Future of Shortwave Radio Broadcasting, summarized the recently released report, “To Be Where The Audience Is.”  The report is the result of a comprehensive review of the efficacy of shortwave radio as a distribution platform for U.S. international media.

A recording of the meeting and related documents are available here.

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