By Christopher B. Daly
A lot of what the rest of the world knows, thinks, and feels about America is a result of messages they get from the media — from Hollywood, from books, from TV, from the Web. In many cases, the most important medium is radio.
And a lot of the media the rest of the world gets comes from one or more of the global broadcasts subsidized by the U.S. government. That cluster of operations is run by an obscure group called the Broadcasting Board of Governors. This week, the BBG got a new chief executive: Andrew Lack, who knows a thing or two about broadcasting. He was the head of the NBC News division and the chief of Bloomberg News, so he knows how to run large communications operations.
On its website, the BBG says it is an “independent federal agency” (oxymoron alert?) whose mission is to “inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.”
Here is the portfolio of the BBG’s broadcasting entities, many of them dating from the Cold War:
–Voice of America,
–Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty,
–the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa),
–Radio Free Asia, and
–the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti).
Is this the propaganda arm of the American government? That’s actually a more complicated question than it may seem.
If Andy Lack were asking my advice (which he does not need) about what to tell the rest of the world about America, I would remind him of the observation made by Mark Twain:
“When in doubt tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.”
[Full Disclosure: I know Andy Lack a little bit because he was the donor who funded the first endowed chair in the Boston University Journalism Department, where I teach. I chaired the committee that searched for someone to fill the chair, and — with Andy’s help — we found David Carr, who now occupies the Andrew Lack Chair.]