My great idea today after pondering the problems of the Board of International Broadcasting AND the problem of the occasional jihadists that turn up among the former-Soviet emigre population was that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America and other broadcasters for overseas audiences should all broadcast at home.
This would help engage new immigrants in particular but also help compete against the active propagandists at RT, Al Jazeera and other foreign stations that are increasingly capturing both emigre and American audiences with their "line".
Back in the Cold War, a law was passed called the Smith-Mundt Act which barred these radios from broadcasting at home, because it was worried about "blowback" -- the effect of broadcasts made for war and intelligence purposes overseas, and how they would sound at home or affect audiences here.
This is now described in a skewed manner, it seems to me, by the CJR, which claims the motivation was fear that Communists could infiltrate at home and that would affect the broadcasts needed to fight the Commies abroad. That doesn't make sense to me.
The fear was always about "blowback" -- you know, don't piss in the wind sort of thing.
This was kind of ridiculous even in the era before the Internet, simply because the content of the programs got around -- in samizdat, that was then reprinted abroad, in various articles, in the radiios' publications issued overseas but available in libraries, and so on. The imperative of the anti-blowback laws seem to me to have been motivated more about how certain things sounded when said abroad, and how they might sound at home when in warfare. This disconnect may have subsided after WWII and the Vietname War.
Even so, I remember when I helped Ludmila Alexeyeva, the chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, who was its Representative in Exile in the 1970s and 1980s, to compile her critical study of bias and problems at RFE/RL and VOA, in order to analyze some of the scripts she knew existed and knew were problematic (extremist, nationalist, antisemitic, etc.), she had to arrange for staff to mail them to people in Canada, and then have Canadians mail them back to us in the States. I am not kidding. This is what we did to technically comply with that law.
This became even more ridiculous to enforce in the Internet era. I worked for two years on two publications on the Internet at RFE/RL that were visible to audiences in the US, not only overseas. There were programs broadcast in Russian that were put up on the Internet that I or any other writer could quote from -- any of these could be read or used or reprinted here. It really became a fiction to police "blowback" and few bothered.
So I came up with my idea -- there really is a problem with anti-Americanism among both students and professors visiting the US that is only exacerbated on some of their lefty college campuses; there really is a problem with alienation and even hostility among emigre populations -- and the cases of the Tsarnaev brothers and the Uzbeks Mukhtorov and Kabilov really bring this home. Obviously the overwhelming majority of students and emigres aren't hostile to their temporary or permanent host country.
But a lot are, and I find a fair number of students and young adults with this mindset because they've grown up in Eurasian societies with zombifying televisions -- and they don't read samizdat, or listen to foreign broadcasts, or read even opposition Live Journals.
Today, I'll get into a Facebook fight with an Uzbek studying at the taxpayer's expense here in the US about her admiration for the propagandistc video "Collateral Murder" -- she simply won't grasp that her emotions have been manipulated and the context stripped away. Or I'll get into a Twitter fight with some Kazakh loyalist or Kyrgyz nationalist who discounts the human rights violations in their country and doesn't accept somebody else on Twitter as an authority. But what if VOA and RFE/RL could be heard, or better yet, not merely accessed, but which targeted people specifically in the emigration?
I first began to see this problem about 20 years ago when I asked all the members of a delegation led by Grigory Yavlinsky for the "500 Days" economic program sponsored by Yeltsin if they had read either Sakharov or Solzhenitsyn.
Most of these reformers in their 20s and 30s had not.
All of Brighton Beach watches Russian-language TV that they get as cable or as a radio combined with American stations that translates some of the programming for them. A lot of the people simply watch Kremlin TV. Or if they watch some emigre-based station, it's one that focuses more on entertainment than on politics.
I always think when I ride in a cab in Washington or New York how it's funny that cab drivers who just got off the plane from Uzbekistan or Belarus are listening to NPR or some extremist right- or left-wing radio talk show host they barely understand, or sometimes one in their own language that isn't anything remotely like the VOA or RFE/RL content.
So why not make it available? So that taxi drivers -- truck drivers and pizza deliverers! -- have it to listen to.
This wouldn't cost a lot more money, but it would mean some re-purposing. I just think that visitors and new arrivals need more *debate* about their world views, plus more *information*. Propaganda doesn't work, people tune it out. But people will watch talk shows with point/counterpoint and they'll listen to news with weather on the ones.
I think this is necessary to counter what I see as the top ten or dozen propaganda planks that Russian intelligence services flak very hard around the world (as do Chinese and Iranian), which include the following false or misleading concepts:
1. America has killed the most people in the world.
2. America sponsored bin Ladn
3. America killed most of the people in Iraq and Afghanistan.
4. America arms Al Qaeda in Syria.
5. America is racist and has numerous hate attacks against Muslims.
6. Ameria invades countries for their oil.
7. America is backward and stupid as its falling test scores illustrate.
8. America is closing its doors to visitors and emigres after 9/11 and even more after the Boston bombing.
9. Bush is responsible for 9/11
10. America is run by Jews who take orders from Israel.
Well, you get the idea. Every one of these notions is factually untrue on the face of it, or misleading in that it doesn't take into context things like the great innovation of America with companies like Microsoft, Google and Facebook, even if some groups of young people's scores are still poor in math.
In any event, the radios need to get *debate* on these topics circulating more with more information to make better informed citizens of their country and the world.
And it turns out that my great idea is one that also, of all people, President Obama has had, because he has now worked to undo the ban on internal broadcasting by the radios. What do you know!
Now, some are very worried that his motivation for doing that is nefarious, as he wants to propagandize Americans at home the way ostensibly they are propagandized abroad.
I think the original fears that prompted the law were misplaced even then, because only certain broadcasts were propagandistic in nature; the radios have in fact strived to be professional and unbiased in newscasting, particularly since their reform and removal from the CIA back in the 1970s.
Whatever Obama's misuses are, I think the transparency we would get from the broadcasting and their presence in the media scene to compete with RT, which has far too much mindshare, and Al Jazeera, is really vital.
Both RT and Al Jazeera are virulently anti-American and tendentious, and while they don't broadcast all of the 10 falsehoods I mentioned as typical, they don't counter them and their comments and opinion pieces are filled with this dreck.