Secretary Clinton: U.S. is losing the information war

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton —

So we are in an information war. And we are losing that war. I’ll be very blunt in my assessment. Al-Jazeera is winning. The Chinese have opened up a global English-language and multi-language television network. The Russians have opened up an English-language network. I’ve seen it in a few countries, and it’s quite instructive.

Because most people still get their news from TV and radio. So even though we’re pushing online, we can’t forget TV and radio.

Secretary Clinton’s testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, March 2, 2011

LUGAR: I thank you for that answer. Let me just add one thought, and that is you have spoken eloquently about the broadcasters, the Broadcasting Board of Governors. And I think Walter Isaacson is taking hold of that as a constructive thing. I would hope that we would be more successful in moving more money toward communication with China, and as we heard with our North Korean hearing yesterday, more complex as to how you get the message. But, this is still a great force of diplomacy to get our message into places. We’re doing better in Iran. We’re doing in better in the Middle East, and we saw, and Tunisia, Egypt and so forth. But, I’m hopeful you can bring us good news about the more aggressive policies, hoping with the BBG and others.

CLINTON: Well, senator, I want to thank you for the report that you did on the broadcasting board of governors and all of the problems that it has experienced. I agree with you. Walter Isaacson is an excellent choice. The board is a very invigorated group of Republicans and Democrats. They understand. We are engaged in an information war. During the Cold War, we did a great job in getting America’s message out. After the Berlin Wall fell we said, okay, fine, enough of that. We’ve done it. We’re done. And unfortunately, we are paying a big price for it.

And our private media cannot fill that gap. In fact, our private media, particularly cultural programming, often works at counterpurposes to what we truly are as Americans and what our values are.

I remember having an Afghan general tell me that the only thing he thought about Americans is that all the men wrestled and the women walked around in bikinis. Because the only TV he ever saw was Baywatch and World Wide Wrestling. So we are in an information war. And we are losing that war. I’ll be very blunt in my assessment. Al-Jazeera is winning.

The Chinese have opened up a global English-language and multi-language television network. The Russians have opened up an English-language network. I’ve seen it in a few countries, and it’s quite instructive. We are cutting back. The BBC is cutting back.

So here’s what we are trying to do. In the State Department, we have pushed very hard on new media. So we have an Arabic Twitter feed. We have a Farsi Twitter feed. I have this group of young techno-experts who are out there engaging on websites and we’re putting all of our young Arabic-speaking diplomats out, so that they are talking about our values.

Walter [Issacson] is working hard with his Board to try to transform the broadcasting efforts. Because most people still get their news from TV and radio. So even though we’re pushing online, we can’t forget TV and radio. And so I look — I would look very much towards your cooperation, to try to figure out how we get back in the game on this. Because I hate ceding what we are most expert in to anybody else.

Dr. Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation, who frequently writes about U.S. international broadcasting, blogged about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remark in her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 2, 2011 that the U.S. is losing the information war. Dr. Helle wrote:

“Most people still get their news from TV and radio,” Clinton said. This is entirely true, which makes it hard to understand why the BBG in February stated that it would end VOA radio and television transmission to China by next October, a decision that has caused joy in Beijing and great consternation among VOA employees and Chinese dissidents.

Dr. Helle also commented:

In response to a question from Representative Russ Carnahan (D–MO) in her testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier in the day, Clinton made the same points, adding that she had spoken to BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson about the decline in U.S. global influence. If anyone could have a direct influence on the future of U.S. international broadcasting, it is her. Maybe Clinton should show up for some of the BBG’s monthly meetings and put her foot down.

Read more on the Heritage Foundation blog View the entire testimony on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee video

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