Kim's Recent Essays...
US International Broadcasting: Success Requires Independence and Consolidation.
In International Broadcasting, Even the Static Must be Credible.
America Calling China: A Strategy for International Broadcasting.
I congratulate Ross Johnson and Gene Parta on this important paper (and I should have paid more attention to it when it was published in November 2012). I support their two main proposals: 1) consolidation of the entities of US international broadcasting into a single single, non-federal, congressionally-funded broadcasting organization, and 2) the positioning of USIB as "distinct from public diplomacy and from strategic communications."
For years, I felt like a voice in the wilderness. I have also advocated consolidation and journalistic independence for US international broadcasting, starting with "Too Many Voices of America," Foreign Policy 1989/90, and more recently in "America Calling: A 21st Century Model," Foreign Service Journal, October 2010. It's good, finally, to have some company.
I have only a few differences with the Johnson/Parta recommendations:
Johnson and Parta, while consolidating US international broadcasting, would preserve the brands of US international broadcasting. The present array of USIB brands, however, is confusing. All of the present brands of USIB have fine accomplishments, but they also have checkered histories. USIB needs to start fresh with a single brand, signaling to the world and to domestic stakeholders that USIB is in the business of news-- not public diplomacy, not a mix of news and public diplomacy, but news. The new brand name should befit an organization that is devoted to journalism and not to regime change.
BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera are global brands for a reason. Success for the BBC in the UK or any part of the world adds to the stature of the BBC throughout the world. This is the sort of global additive effect that USIB needs.
I also disagree with Ross and Gene on the role of US private international media. They write:
"USIB should avoid entanglement with commercial media networks, such as CNN International, Fox International and CNBC International. These for-profit organizations do not fill the same function as USIB and should not, in any way, be linked to it. These commercial media networks, despite claims of objectivity, often do present a point of view and broadcast style that would be detrimental were it to be identified with USIB. Co-mingling USIB with commercial broadcast operations would diminish its role of supporting freedom and democracy and compromise USIB’s independent identity as congressionally-funded in the national interest."
If the private US media and USIB are doing news correctly, then they do "fill the same function." One side is funded through advertising, the other by the taxpayers, but otherwise the product is the same. It is to the advantage of US taxpayers that US international broadcasting be conducted as much as possible by the private sector, at no cost to US taxpayers.
Yes, Fox News Channel and MSNBC are not good role models. The authors, however, do not give CNN enough credit. The hard-news, non-talking-heads part of CNN does attempt to be balanced and comprehensive. CNN International has even more news, and much more coverage of international affairs. It is unfortunate that CNN International is not available in more American cable TV homes. CNN International has a larger global audience than BBC World News, Al Jazeera English, or any other global English news channel. It is a great American success story. USIB should not duplicate, compete with, or undercut the profit potential of any private US international media effort that provides serious news.
One of the major advantages that BBC international broadcasting has over USIB is that BBC World Service has a partnership with the domestic BBC. BBC World Service can avail itself of the domestic newsgathering resources of the BBC, and vice versa. USIB will not be in the same league as the BBC world services until USIB too can enjoy similar synergies with US domestic broadcasting. Access to the domestic newsgathering resources of US private media will bolster USIB. The language and country knowledge of USIB journalists, if put to good use by US private news media, would greatly increase Americans' understanding of world affairs.
The last sentence in the paragraph cited above is troubling, and not just because it is laden with oxymora. Private US news media absolutely are "supporting freedom and democracy." This is why the news media are referred to as the "fourth estate." On the other hand, if the authors mean "supporting freedom and democracy" in a more activist way, then it would be USIB whose "claims of objectivity" are in doubt.
If the Johnson/Parta recommendations are not heeded, USIB will remain a feudal confederacy of overlapping bureaucracies, and an untenable mix of news and public diplomacy. In this case, the only successful and meaningful US international broadcasting in an increasingly complex global media environment will be from the private sector.
Update: Critical Distance Weblog, 10 Feb 2013, Jonathan Marks: "In the current tide of vitriolic personal and very public battles that seem to have engulfed the US Broadcasting Board of Governors, it is refreshing to discover a new discussion paper with a different approach. In fact, it's a 24 page road-map which is a considered contribution to the discussion of where-to-next. ... •USIB as a single independent entity could make much more use of access to other resources which broadcasters are often blind to. I would argue that the goal should be to set up US International Media, a trusted independent foundation. It does anything that is necessary to ensure that citizens of the world have access to intelligent thoughts, ideas and discussions. ... •There are areas of the world where access is blocked by local government, for whatever reason. These are the targets where the US needs to focus on its broadcast strategy - using any relevant mix of media that the audience is already using." -- The media that can get into a country where access to foreign media is blocked may not be the media that (most of) the audience is already using. This necessitates a communication strategy that involves a small audience coupled with a "multiplier effect."