Commentary Magazine


Topic: Voice of America

Voice of America Needs a Strategy

Earlier this week, Foreign Policy reported that Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), respectively, the chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are supporting a bill which, according to Foreign Policy, “tweaks the language of VOA’s mission to explicitly outline the organization’s role in supporting U.S. ‘public diplomacy’ and the ‘policies’ of the United States government, a move that would settle a long-running dispute within the federal government about whether VOA should function as a neutral news organization rather than a messaging tool of Washington.”

VOA and International Board of Broadcasting employees have, in private sessions, defended the notion that they should be a media company like any other, and argued that by criticizing U.S. policy, they increase the service’s credibility. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, VOA famously defended and subsequently gave an award to a Pashto service employee who consistently aired Taliban officials and seemed to promote the Taliban line in order to create balance. That neither advanced U.S. interests nor made VOA more credible. Rather, it encouraged conspiracy theories and simply confused Afghans who could fathom no reason why Voice of America would broadcast reports sympathetic to Mullah Omar and the Taliban in the wake of 9/11.

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Earlier this week, Foreign Policy reported that Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), respectively, the chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are supporting a bill which, according to Foreign Policy, “tweaks the language of VOA’s mission to explicitly outline the organization’s role in supporting U.S. ‘public diplomacy’ and the ‘policies’ of the United States government, a move that would settle a long-running dispute within the federal government about whether VOA should function as a neutral news organization rather than a messaging tool of Washington.”

VOA and International Board of Broadcasting employees have, in private sessions, defended the notion that they should be a media company like any other, and argued that by criticizing U.S. policy, they increase the service’s credibility. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, VOA famously defended and subsequently gave an award to a Pashto service employee who consistently aired Taliban officials and seemed to promote the Taliban line in order to create balance. That neither advanced U.S. interests nor made VOA more credible. Rather, it encouraged conspiracy theories and simply confused Afghans who could fathom no reason why Voice of America would broadcast reports sympathetic to Mullah Omar and the Taliban in the wake of 9/11.

The Pashto service isn’t alone. Many Iranians have questioned why VOA’s Persian Service and Radio Farda have in the past (I haven’t followed it in recent years) seemed so sympathetic to pro-regime reformists. Indeed, many mocked them as “Radio Khatami.” While diplomats might understandably think more favorably toward Iranian reformists than Iranian hardliners, the fact of the matter is that neither represents the broad array of Iranians who are, at best, overwhelmingly apathetic toward the regime imposed upon them, if not actively hostile to it.

It’s clear that VOA should not be simply an ordinary news service. The private sector handles that better, and CNN, CNBC, and even Fox are increasingly available abroad. Even in autocratic countries like Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, residents can access a plethora of satellite stations, even when such access isn’t really legal.

So, here’s a modest proposal: The Broadcasting Board of Governors should identify in each country hostile to the United States or behind an iron curtain what journalists in that country aren’t allowed to pursue. In Iran, it could be stories about the leaders’ moral and financial corruption, strong women, or the arguments of dissident religious leaders. In Turkey, journalists are not able to cover fully Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s corruption and that of his cronies, or explore fully Kurdish issues.

In Algeria, it could be interviews with refugees who have escaped their captivity in the Tindouf refugee camps or the plight of the Berbers; and in North Korea and Eritrea, it could be just about anything. Given limited resources, VOA broadcasting to that country should focus on those banned subjects. That would guarantee relevance, an audience, and invariably bolster American interests as well.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Marco Rubio is closing in on Charlie Crist in the Republican Florida Senate primary.

Two Republican congressmen have a theory as to why the recovery is tepid: “The source appears to be a growing fear that the federal government is retreating from the free-market economic principles of the last half-century, and in particular the strong growth policies that began under Ronald Reagan.” One big factor, they say, is tax policy: “Marginal income tax rates, capital gains rates, dividend rates and death-tax rates will increase — significantly. Hardest hit by these increases will be small businesses that file under the individual income tax code as sub-chapter S corporations, partnerships and proprietorships. Yet these are the very people whose investment and hiring decisions either drive or starve recoveries.”

Michael Goldfarb closes in on NIAC’s lobbying and efforts to silence journalists: “Keep in mind, this is an organization that claims on its tax forms that it DOES NOT engage in lobbying. Moreover, all of the group’s efforts seems focused on preventing additional sanctions, eliminating U.S. democracy funding initiatives, and destroying the Voice of America’s Radio Farda service. The regime couldn’t come up with a better set of priorities for NIAC, which may explain why so many people are wondering on behalf of whom NIAC is working.”

More bad polling for Obama in the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll: 46 percent approve and an equal percentage disapprove of his performance. Independents disapprove by a stunning 51 to 34 percent margin. By a 42 to 39 percent margin, respondents want to vote Republican in congressional races “to provide a check on Obama’s power.”

And from Quinnipiac: “Three-quarters of American voters — 74 percent — like President Barack Obama as a person, but only 47 percent like most of his policies, and voters disapprove 51-35 percent of the health care overhaul passed by the House of Representatives which he has endorsed, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. Voters disapprove 53-41 percent of President Obama’s handling of health care. Obama’s endorsement of the House of Representatives–passed health care plan makes no difference to 44 percent of American voters, while 24 percent say it makes them view him more favorably; 30 percent less favorably.”

Meanwhile, the status quo has never looked so good: “As Congress debates a possible major expansion of health insurance in the United States, Gallup finds 38% of Americans rating healthcare coverage in this country as excellent or good, the highest (by eight percentage points) in the nine-year history of this question, and 12 points above last year’s level.”

Another weekend rush: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the first key test vote on his $848 billion health care bill will be taken Saturday, but he declined to say whether he has 60 senators lined up to vote yes. ‘We will find out when the votes are taken,’ he told reporters at a midday event. Reid also said he would not use a procedural maneuver known as reconciliation to pass the bill — a shift from previous statements when he would say all options are on the table.” And that’s 8 p.m. on Saturday for the vote. Get the sense they don’t want too much attention?

Meanwhile: “Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said Thursday that he would prevent health reform from moving to final passage if restrictions on federal funding for abortion weren’t tightened during the amendment process. But, he added, ‘there are a lot of other things that could keep me from supporting it in the end as well.’”

Governors speak up: “Republican governors, meeting outside of Austin, sharply criticized the bill and a companion measure that has passed the House, claiming Thursday that they do nothing to contain rising medical costs and would shift significant costs to already fiscally strapped states.”

Wait, we were told to forget the tax problems because he was a genius: “Snowballing frustration about the economy burst into a political fracas Thursday, with several lawmakers calling on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to resign over angst about unemployment and Wall Street bailouts. The criticism came largely from House Republicans, who have long been critics of the Treasury secretary. Mr. Geithner’s job status doesn’t appear to be in serious jeopardy and several Democrats at a congressional hearing leapt to his defense. But joining the anti-Geithner chorus in increasing numbers are more liberal Democrats who say the White House’s economic policies haven’t done enough to boost job growth.”

Marco Rubio is closing in on Charlie Crist in the Republican Florida Senate primary.

Two Republican congressmen have a theory as to why the recovery is tepid: “The source appears to be a growing fear that the federal government is retreating from the free-market economic principles of the last half-century, and in particular the strong growth policies that began under Ronald Reagan.” One big factor, they say, is tax policy: “Marginal income tax rates, capital gains rates, dividend rates and death-tax rates will increase — significantly. Hardest hit by these increases will be small businesses that file under the individual income tax code as sub-chapter S corporations, partnerships and proprietorships. Yet these are the very people whose investment and hiring decisions either drive or starve recoveries.”

Michael Goldfarb closes in on NIAC’s lobbying and efforts to silence journalists: “Keep in mind, this is an organization that claims on its tax forms that it DOES NOT engage in lobbying. Moreover, all of the group’s efforts seems focused on preventing additional sanctions, eliminating U.S. democracy funding initiatives, and destroying the Voice of America’s Radio Farda service. The regime couldn’t come up with a better set of priorities for NIAC, which may explain why so many people are wondering on behalf of whom NIAC is working.”

More bad polling for Obama in the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll: 46 percent approve and an equal percentage disapprove of his performance. Independents disapprove by a stunning 51 to 34 percent margin. By a 42 to 39 percent margin, respondents want to vote Republican in congressional races “to provide a check on Obama’s power.”

And from Quinnipiac: “Three-quarters of American voters — 74 percent — like President Barack Obama as a person, but only 47 percent like most of his policies, and voters disapprove 51-35 percent of the health care overhaul passed by the House of Representatives which he has endorsed, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. Voters disapprove 53-41 percent of President Obama’s handling of health care. Obama’s endorsement of the House of Representatives–passed health care plan makes no difference to 44 percent of American voters, while 24 percent say it makes them view him more favorably; 30 percent less favorably.”

Meanwhile, the status quo has never looked so good: “As Congress debates a possible major expansion of health insurance in the United States, Gallup finds 38% of Americans rating healthcare coverage in this country as excellent or good, the highest (by eight percentage points) in the nine-year history of this question, and 12 points above last year’s level.”

Another weekend rush: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the first key test vote on his $848 billion health care bill will be taken Saturday, but he declined to say whether he has 60 senators lined up to vote yes. ‘We will find out when the votes are taken,’ he told reporters at a midday event. Reid also said he would not use a procedural maneuver known as reconciliation to pass the bill — a shift from previous statements when he would say all options are on the table.” And that’s 8 p.m. on Saturday for the vote. Get the sense they don’t want too much attention?

Meanwhile: “Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said Thursday that he would prevent health reform from moving to final passage if restrictions on federal funding for abortion weren’t tightened during the amendment process. But, he added, ‘there are a lot of other things that could keep me from supporting it in the end as well.’”

Governors speak up: “Republican governors, meeting outside of Austin, sharply criticized the bill and a companion measure that has passed the House, claiming Thursday that they do nothing to contain rising medical costs and would shift significant costs to already fiscally strapped states.”

Wait, we were told to forget the tax problems because he was a genius: “Snowballing frustration about the economy burst into a political fracas Thursday, with several lawmakers calling on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to resign over angst about unemployment and Wall Street bailouts. The criticism came largely from House Republicans, who have long been critics of the Treasury secretary. Mr. Geithner’s job status doesn’t appear to be in serious jeopardy and several Democrats at a congressional hearing leapt to his defense. But joining the anti-Geithner chorus in increasing numbers are more liberal Democrats who say the White House’s economic policies haven’t done enough to boost job growth.”

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