C-SPAN’s “The Communicators” interviews leadership across the BBG

The Communicators is C-SPAN’s weekly series of half-hour conversations with leaders who shape the world’s digital future. Recently, host Peter Slen interviewed several key leaders across multiple BBG entities about the history and function of various parts of the organization.

Part 2: (above) Middle East Broadcasting Networks

Interview Highlights

On the mission of MBN: “It’s not directly to counter Islamic extremism, but it’s assumed within our broader mission and it is a very important component of the content that we pursue today. So I wouldn’t say it’s our mission, but the rise of violent extremism in the Middle East is the dominant issue facing the Middle East, (it) may even be the dominant issue facing the world.”

-Brian Conniff, President, Middle East Broadcasting Networks


On covering women’s issues: “There’s everything you do sort of …the bigger mission, but for me (it’s) always been personally women’s and children’s issues. I’m a mom, I have three kids. So the Middle East by our standards is not a friendly place for women and kids so we have done an inordinate amount of stories about the difficulties of life across the Middle East. There aren’t enough people telling the stories of how difficult it is to be a woman and a girl child. So how many stories have we done on child marriages, I can’t even count.”

-Fran Mires, Executive Producer, Al Youm

On the difference between Alhurra and Al-Jazeera or Al-Arabiya “I think the basic difference is that we don’t have a political agenda that we are pursuing in our newscasts. So content, form and narrative and the selection of news, everything about the news making process, is not driven by a preset or preplanned news agenda. It’s driven by news worthiness and relevance to the region.”

-Hassan Shwiki, Executive Producer, Alhurra News

Part 1: Voice of America and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting

Interview Highlights

On VOA’s support of democracy: “We are incredibly fortunate that we live in a country where we have constitutionally protected freedoms of the press, where we can write and report things without fear of retribution and just by exhibiting and practicing those values, I think it’s a really powerful message to the people of the world about how important those freedoms are and what you can accomplish when you have those freedoms.”

–Amanda Bennett, Director, Voice of America

On BBG’s most effective platforms: “Historically, this all began with radio in the post-World War II era. But increasingly in the last three to five years, we’ve seen social media, digital, mobile social media platforms being the most effective means for communicating in parts of the world where a free media is really difficult to find. It also allows us to reach younger audiences, maybe future leaders that could help shape some of these countries that lack press freedoms in a positive way in the future.”

–John F. Lansing, CEO and Director, Broadcasting Board of Governors

On the Russian-language TV news program Current Time: Current Time is a unique television program, and its uniqueness is coming from the fact that it is co-produced by two entities, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. [RFE/RL] has a large network of reporters all over Europe and in the countries where Current Time is being shown, and we [VOA] come from Washington. So they cover local events and we cover the U.S. perspective on [those] events.”

–Irina Van Dusen, Managing Editor, VOA Russian Service

On VOA Ukraine’s role in the media: “None of Ukrainian media have representation here in the United States. So basically they reach to us for help, and we are covering all the U.S. stories, a lot of international stories, and a lot of American politics stories, so we are playing a very vital role for Ukrainian media….And not just informing, but giving them standards. Ukrainian media is still developing…we are showing them how to do unbiased television.”

–Myroslava Gongadze, Director, VOA Ukrainian Service

On whether the change in U.S.-Cuba relations changes the mission of the Martis: “I don’t think the [Martis’] mission changes in any way because Cuba has not changed….you have a region where there is no freedom of speech or there is no access to information…that hasn’t changed at all since we [the U.S.] started improving relations”

–Maria “Malule” Gonzalez, Director, Office of Cuba Broadcasting

On the popularity of VOA’s Persian Service: 

“The internet in Iran is tightly controlled and heavily filtered….Despite all the difficulties, the shutdown or blocking of popular sites and so forth, our website last year — just last year in 2015 — jumped 46% as far as views were concerned.  That was thanks to the JCPOA (the nuclear deal) and the heated political debate going on in this country. We are moving forward with our internet, despite the difficulties that Iran is creating, and I’m sure it will continue.”

–Setareh Derakhshesh, Director, VOA Persian Service