Broadcasting Board of Governors – Iran and the Art of the Deal

Snapshot of Voice of America website under cyber attack by Iranian hackers.

Snapshot of Voice of America website under cyber attack by Iranian hackers.

by The Federalist

Voice of America (VOA) Director David Ensor is taking on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and its Iranian Cyber Army!  Well, not exactly but close, at least symbolically.
 
As addressed in a recent BBG Watch article, Voice of America (VOA) director David Ensor has posted comments on his blog critical of Iran’s jamming of VOA Farsi television programs intended to reach Iranian audiences by satellite.
 
BBG Watch points out, Mr. Ensor and/or the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) can complain all they want, but absent an effective back-up plan, US international broadcasting is being stymied by the Iranians.
 
This is more than communications warfare.  This is the Iranians – and others – waging a form of economic warfare against the United States.  Satellites cost money.  Airtime on satellites costs money.  Producing programs that few if anyone is able to watch costs more money, along with equipment, personnel salaries, etc.  It’s an effective tactic, especially when the United States is not flush with cash these days and won’t be for the foreseeable future.
 
The Iranians are not likely to back down from what they are doing.  And from their perspective, the fact that Ensor gives them some free attention and publicity may be seen as validating the effectiveness of their actions.  It’s all about perception.  The perception the Iranians are trying to create is that the United States is weak and powerless to stop them from what they are doing.  And to a certain extent, they are correct.
 
As to an effective BBG/IBB back-up plan to deal with the situation -
 
There is no effective back-up plan.
 
The ultimate objective of the agency’s “flim, flam strategic plan” is to be wholly reliant on the Internet as its sole source platform for audio, video and text.  This “plan” is inherently vulnerable.  Iran, China and other nations have the capability to control or take down the Internet and other forms of communication technology at will and have done so.  In places where we have strategic interests (Russia, China and Iran), US international broadcasting is right on the cusp of being rendered irrelevant.
 
The only effective plan for US international broadcasting begins with radio:
 
First, radio goes everywhere.  Attempts to jam radio broadcasts over shortwave are not wholly or uniformly effective.  That makes radio the core strategic asset of US international broadcasting.
 
Second, radio signals cover the greatest expanse of territory.  They can blanket a country if not entire geographic regions.  The more territory you cover, the more listeners you can reach, the better investment of American taxpayer dollars.
 
Third, radio is the most affordable at the receiving end.  The first order of business should be making maximum use of the medium that is able to reach the largest number of people by the cheapest means available for the audience.
 
Everything after this is extra.  For the person at the receiving end, the other mediums of television and the Internet start ratcheting up affordability, accessibility and connectivity.
 
Of course, in the mindset of the BBG/IBB, the first thing to get rid of is radio!  They want you to believe that radio is old-fashioned.  Tell that to people who listen to Washington, DC radio station WTOP and rely upon it for all kinds of relevant news and information.  That kind of reliance is no different when applied to international audiences.  If the radio programming is compelling, people will listen.
 
Instead of expanding the audience for US international broadcasting, the agency’s “scam plan,” at its ultimate goal, has the effect of narrowing the potential audience.  Either the majority general population hasn’t the per capita income to purchase the technology, can’t get connected to the technology or is at the mercy of a national government’s ability to block connectivity and expose individuals to retaliation, arrest or other punitive measures.
 
Why does BBG/IBB research show that radio has far superior numbers to its Internet operations?  Read the paragraphs above.  The BBG/IBB is going out of its way to cripple the effectiveness of US international broadcasting.
 
It is unlikely that the Iranians will be much disturbed by Mr. Ensor’s blog and will likely continue to commit itself to continuing the disruption of VOA’s Persian News Network (PNN) programs.
 
But there’s more to what the Iranians are doing:
 
Recently, the Iranians have expanded their global broadcasting outreach to include television broadcasts in Spanish.
 
More than likely, this is a gesture of solidarity with the regime of Hugo Chavez, the Iranians ally in Venezuela and Latin America.  It’s a slick maneuver on the part of both the Iranians and Chavez, the second greatest irritant to the United States in the Southern Hemisphere next to Fidel Castro.
 
Chavez sees himself as the likely ideological successor to Castro and no doubt wants to build upon that image.  That makes his connection to the Iranians very disturbing.  As part of its nuclear ambitions, the Iranians are known to be working on increasing the range of their ballistic missiles.  The last thing the United States needs is a surprise coming out of the Southern Hemisphere, a scenario in which Iranian ballistic missiles are forward deployed to Venezuela.  Chavez is certainly capable of making that kind of deal with the Iranians.
 
At present, we don’t know much about what the BBG/IBB is doing in its broadcasts to Latin America.  It’s off the radar – and with the BBG/IBB that’s never a good thing.  We hear of protests outside the offices of Radio/TV Marti in Miami with Cuban expatriates unhappy with what they see as the agency going soft on the Castro regime.  That could be an outward indication of an eroded effectiveness of the broadcasting effort to Latin America in general.
 
At the end of the day, here’s the deal:
 
The Iranian government is very determined to achieve its national goals and objectives.  It looks for openings, opportunities.  Latin America is on the Iranian radar.
 
The BBG/IBB represents just the opposite – a lack of determination and commitment compromising the nature and effectiveness of the US Government international broadcasting effort.
 
See the big picture:
 
The BBG/IBB: strategically outmaneuvered once again.
 
The Federalist
February 10, 2012
 
 

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