BBC and RFE/RL websites' coverage of Kyrgyzstan provides a "teachable moment" for the new BBG.

Posted: 16 Apr 2010   Print   Send a link
World Affairs, 12 Apr 2010, Martha Bayles: "Memo to the new members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (should they ever be confirmed): Last week there was an uprising in Kyrgyzstan, which took most Western governments by surprise. ... But let’s say an English-speaking person wants to know more. Placing myself in that position, I went online to see what was out there. What did I find? Starting with the BBC’s Kyrgyz page, I found several stories—in Kyrgyz. Looking for the English-language version of that page, I found none, which left me clicking all over the site. ... Finally I found it—in a place most Americans wouldn’t think of looking, even though it is paid for by our tax dollars: the Kyrgyz service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. ... The first thing I noticed was that, unlike the BBC, RFE/RL posts an English page for each of its 28 language services. ... As a government-funded entity, RFE/RL can never divorce itself entirely from America’s short-term interest. But at the same time, surrogate broadcasting should not be reduced to state propaganda. ... Here is the lesson from Kyrgyzstan: The best way to serve both the short- and long-term goals of the United States is to provide people in unfree societies a model of what our own free and responsible media used to look like."
     Ms. Bayles apparently did not type Kyrgyzstan in the search function at the top of the BBC World Service or most other BBC web pages. This yields a column of news stories about the country, another column with BBC blog entries, other sections with background information about Kyrgyzstan, and the weather there today. There is even a sports section (though there seems to have been no notable sports news from Kyrgyzstan since 2008).
     Ms. Bayles has, nevertheless, stumbled on an irony of the BBC's web effort: the BBC World Service website is not really the best place to go for world news, at least not in English. For that, go to www.bbcnews.com, or (the same) news.bbc.co.uk. Then search by region: Kyrgyzstan is assigned to Asia-Pacific. Click on the most recent Kyrgyzstan story to find links to other stories about the country. The search function, however, is the best way to get news about the country.
     The RFE/RL site is an excellent and well-sorted-out source of news in English about its target countries. It also has more stories about Kyrgyzstan than does the BBC, though the BBC's volume of output about the country is impressive.
     "America's short-term interest" would be reflected by language choices for RFE/RL and VOA, such as the recent addition of VOA's Deewa Radio in Pashto for the Pakistan/Afghanistan frontier region, and the more recent addition of RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal in Pashto for the Pakistan/Afghanistan frontier region. (Why having two broadcasting services providing much the same news to the same region in the same language is in America's short-term interest is beyond my comprehension. See previous post.) If America's short-term interest is evident in the content of RFE/RL or VOA, even if mixed with straight news, the audience is likely to dismiss the stations as propaganda operations. The advocacy of US short-, middle-, and long-term interests should be left to US public diplomacy, which is the job of another agency, in another building.