The 2007 fiscal plan for the Voice of America and other services of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (the United States' international broadcasting service) includes expanded broadcasts to Iran, Afghanistan, and other parts of the Middle East, but it also includes major cutbacks in service to European and former Soviet areas. These cutbacks are shortsighted, inefficient, and irresponsible.
International Broadcasting is More Economical than Formal Diplomacy
The proposed FY 2007 budget for all BBG broadcasting services is $671.9 million. Alone, that figure sounds imposing. But it's less than the more than $900 million annual budget to run the Chicago Transit Authority. In fact, the new US Embassy to Iraq is expected to cost more than $1.5 billion. US foreign broadcasting services are extremely efficient methods of conducting diplomacy.
Unbiased, Self-Critical News Programming Enhances US Credibility
The most important product of US foreign broadcasting services is news. Some of the BBG services recently launched to the Middle East emphasize entertainment programming -- broadcasts to the Middle East via Radio Sawa, for instance, heavily emphasize popular music -- but entertainment programming fails to meet the key objective of promoting pro-American attitudes. Unbiased news programming, on the other hand, enhances the credibility of US interests, diplomats, and representatives . Moreover, it undermines the state propaganda of corrupt and oppressive governments. Entertainment programming crosses borders comparatively easily -- DVDs and SD chips are so small that they can escape detection, carrying music and movies across borders and into contraband and black markets. But news programming depends upon immediacy -- it has to move swiftly to be effective -- and it's simply not demanded in the same way that entertainment programming is. The biggest consumers of news are the opinion-makers and opinion leaders; these are the people who lead revolutions. In particular, broadcasting agencies can enhance their credibility through self-critical news programming, showing that dissent and disagreement are openly welcomed in free societies.
Popular Revolutions Still Matter
The roll call of recent popular revolutions against tyranny includes Georgia, the Ukraine, and Lebanon. These revolutions were incited by the people. Foreign broadcasting services help deliver the kind of information that's critical to conducting these revolutions. The fact is that many parts of the world remain under totalitarian or other un-free control, and the work of promoting freedom and liberation through popular revolution in those countries is an ongoing process, not something to start and stop.
Cutting Back on Public Diplomacy Anywhere Ignores the Risk that Any Place Can Move Backwards
The march of freedom and liberty has been anything but consistent. Some nations have appeared to liberalize, only to step backwards into oppression and tyranny when times turned rough, or when leaders abused their power. No nation is more than a generation away from tyranny -- often even less. The promotion of freedom and liberty everywhere, all the time, can be carried out with great economy through foreign-broadcasting services.
Target Groups are Geographically Spread Out
While the government talks about using foreign broadcasting to concentrate on areas affected by the War on Terror, it's cutting back on service to Europe. Given the substantial population of immigrants from those targeted regions now living in Europe, cutbacks to US foreign broadcasting services to that region seem myopic at best -- and completely ignorant at worst.