Is America’s Overseas Broadcasting Undermining our National Interest and Undermining the Fight Against Tyrannical Regimes?


Rep. Dana RohrabacherText of the opening statement by Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
House Foreign Affairs Committee Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee
April 6, 2011.
Is America’s Overseas Broadcasting Undermining our National Interest and Undermining the Fight Against Tyrannical Regimes?
Opening Statement: The Subcommittee will come to order. Good Morning Everyone. I want to thank Ranking Member Carnahan and the other members of the subcommittee for joining us here this morning. Thank you also to our witnesses for coming; I’m looking forward to hearing your testimony.
I have called this hearing to investigate one of the greatest failures in recent American foreign policy…. to define and follow a strategic communications strategy. Today I’d like to talk about this in the context of two of America’s most dangerous enemies, Iran and Communist China.
First and foremost American strategic communications and public diplomacy should seek to promote the national interest of the United States through informing and influencing foreign audiences; this is often referred to as the war of ideas. The role and responsibilities of the Broadcasting Board of Governors is not only journalism! The BBG is critical to our national security.
While much is said about how new technology (Internet news, social networks, twitter) is bringing the world together and empowering the general public, not as much is being said about the messages being carried along these new information conduits. It is often assumed that messages are being dominated by ideas of freedom and liberation. Yet the dictatorial regimes of Communist China and Iran are, currently controlling and manipulating the flow of information.
During the Cold War I worked in the White House when President Reagan ordered a massive infusion of funds to help Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Reagan knew the utility of public diplomacy and he used it artfully. Lech Walesa, the leader of Solidarity freedom movement and later the President of Poland, remarked on the value of US Radio Broadcasting by saying its importance “cannot even be described… would there be earth without the sun?”
Could the BBG’s programming today have that same level of importance to the modern day Lech Walesas of Iran and China? Is our programming, helping or undermining freedom movements in those under dictatorships.
During the Cold War we defined the Soviet Union as the enemy and under Reagan’s leadership we set out to defeat it. If the Chinese Communist Party is to be defeated without suffering a war we must have the same level of commitment to broadcasting our messages and we need to energize public diplomacy.
Recently it was announced that the Voice of America will lay off over half of its Mandarin language broadcasters, a reduction of 45 Chinese journalists. The BBG proposes to eliminate VOA’s daily 12-hour Chinese radio and TV broadcasting next year. This is worrisome. I look forward to hearing our Administration witnesses address this point specifically. Is there more behind this reduction than merely saving money?
The $8 million “saved” will do far more to weaken our efforts in China than it will to balance the budget. In FY 2012, the BBG has requested over $767 million dollars, an increase over the $758 million they were appropriated in FY2010. Being given more money this year, of all years, is no small request. We need to make sure that it is worth it. If we spend more, we have to get more.
The gutting of VOA’s China service does not seem to fit this criteria. At the same time, China is spending lavishly. The Chinese regime has dished out over $7 billion over the past two years on its propaganda , this as we are slashing our communications effort.
I seriously question the wisdom of the BBG’s recent decision to switch from short wave radio broadcasting to an internet based service. This new approach will be much more vulnerable to the type of internet controls and monitoring the Chinese Communist Party has been perfecting for years.
As the US has retreated from short wave radio, the Communist “China Radio International” has expanded, tripling its English broadcasting since 2000 and going from using 150 frequencies to over 280. Obviously shortwave is working for someone. As we are about to layoff over half of VoA’s Mandarin language workforce, Xinhua, the official propaganda arm of the Chinese Communist Party is aggressively expanding and opening an office in downtown Manhattan.
Unfortunately, the problems with US public diplomacy extend well beyond China. Promoting democracy in Iran has been official U.S. policy since the Iran Freedom Support Act was passed in 2006, though American broadcasts into Iran started earlier. Radio Farda and the VoA’s Persian News Network have in the past used official Iranian government sources for their reporting. Giving air time to the Iranian government is a misguided effort to have a journalistic balance. The American tax payers should not be furthering the Mullah’s repressive views.
This is less of a problem for Radio Farda since they spend the majority of their time playing music, not talking about the issues or informing the Iranian people. It’s disturbing to learn of the BBG’s slowness in reporting information about the violence the Iranian Mullah’s unleashed against the Green movement when it protested the stealing Iran’s 2009 national election.
Certainly, this is not the kind of record that best serves America’s national interest. Recognizing these problems, I am a strong supporter of US public diplomacy and I believe we need more, not less of it, but it needs radical reform. America needs an up-to-date National Communications Strategy that reflects our values, ideals, and national interests. US broadcasting must commit itself to this. Perhaps background checks and more training of BBG employees is also in order.
I’m sure our distinguished witnesses have ideas about how to improve US strategic communications and I am looking forward to hearing them. To explain these issues to us today we have Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jennifer Stout, responsible for public diplomacy and public affairs in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Ms. Stout worked here on Capitol Hill for over 11 years before going to State and was a staffer for Senators Biden and Leahy. She holds a MA from George Washington University.
Next we have Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Philo Dibble who is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer who has held many overseas assignments in the Middle East. He has a Masters degree from John Hopkins University.
From the Broadcasting Board of Governors we have with us Enders Wimbush and Michael Meehan. Mr. Wimbush is a Senior Vice President at the Hudson Institute and from 1987 to 1993 he served as Director of Radio Liberty in Munich, Germany. Mr. Meehan is the President of Blue Line Strategic Communications and over the past two decades has served in senior roles for Senators Kerry and Boxer in addition to others.
John Lenczowski is one of my good friends from the Reagan White House where he was the Director of European and Soviet Affairs at the National Security Council. Today he is the founder and President of the Institute of World Politics, an international affairs graduate school in Washington, DC.
Mr. Robert Reilly was a special assistant to President Reagan and went on to become a director of the Voice of America. During the Iraq War he was a Senior Advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Information and a Senior Advisor for Information Strategy to the Secretary of Defense.
Amir Fakhravar (KAUK-RA-VAR) was a writer and journalist inside of Iran who was jailed by the regime for opposing their despotic and violent ways. After spending 5 years in prison he came to the United States in 2006 and founded the “Confederation of Iranian Students” to work to create a free Iran.
Mr. Shiyu Zhou (SHEE-YOU JOU)is the Executive Vice President of New Tang Dynasty Television, the only US-based independent Chinese language TV network broadcasting into China. My Zhou is a Ph. D. and formerly a computer scientist at the Mathematical Sciences Research Center at Bell Labs.
I would ask the witnesses to summarize their prepared statement in 5 minutes each, before we move to questions and answers with Members under the five minute rule. Without objection, the witnesses’ full, prepared statements will be made part of the record, and Members may have 5 calendar days to insert statements and questions for the record, subject to the length limitations in the rules.