The battle for influence over the international airwaves has opened a new front—in Washington.
“Better to win the war of ideas than have to win a war,” testified Robert Reilly, former director of Voice of America.
Current and former leaders in US international broadcasting testified before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on April 6, 2011 about the American foreign broadcasting’s ability to compete with other international news outlets.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) expressed concern about the rise of English-language Chinese media, including Xinhua and CCTV.
“Do you recognize this paper? It's published by the Communist Party of China.It's distributed widely, I think it comes to every one of our governmental offices. Do we have a similar publication that goes to the people who are in the Chinese government?” Rohrabacher asked the Broadcasting Board of Governors and State Department officials.
American international broadcasters target China, Iran, the Middle East and other nations through the Voice of America, Al Hurrah and others, but audiences are shrinking.
“The BBG [Broadcasting Board of Governors] and others in 2010 showed that only 0.1% of Chinese listened to the Voice of America in Mandarin,” testified S. Enders Wimbush, Chair of the Broadcasting Board of Governors Strategy and Budget Committee.
Just a decade ago, American and British outlets like CNN International and the BBC dominated the international broadcasting market. But analysts like Georgetown University lecturer Chris Chambers said that today’s multi-polar world is reflected in its multi-polar broadcasters—like France, China, Venezuela, Iran, Qatar and Russia.
This new media landscape has top officials in Washington worried that US broadcasters are losing influence.
“We are in an information war and we are losing that war. Al Jazeera is winning, the Chinese have opened a global multi-language television network, the Russians have opened up an English-language network. I’ve seen it in a few countries, and it is quite instructive,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on March 2, 2011.
Chambers said that American foreign broadcasters’ diminishing audiences are the result of the US’s desire to influence rather than inform.
“With the amount of money we're talking about, [Hillary Clinton] could literally set up a Voice of America on steroids,” he said. “That's not what's going to happen. They're going to try to go into these countries and probably try to buy news, a true propaganda arm rather than a news gathering and reporting outlet, which is what RT, the Chinese network and Al Jazeera are going to be. Yes, they're going to have their messages but they’re real news networks. They're pretty much where CBS, ABC and NBC were 30 years ago before things fell apart and got re-corporatized.”
But while many laud the need for freedom of information abroad, others seek to have it silenced at home.
A group called America’s Survival Inc. organized a press conference entitled “Al Jazeera, Global Jihad and the Suicide of the West” at the National Press Club April 1, 2011. Speakers included an event with Cliff Kincaid, Lee Kaplan and Pamela Geller.
“This is a very dangerous time, you must get activated,” Geller, the executive director of the Stop Islamization of America organization, told about 30 audience members. “Your children will not grow up in any world you will recognize. You will not like what comes after America.”
Geller and Kincaid denounced RT and Al Jazeera as “Jihad TV.”
“American taxpayers are helping put Jihad TV on the air,” Kincaid said.
“It’s a propaganda campaign, and right now we are at war. Would you have Goebbels broadcasting during World War II, would you have Tokyo Rose?” Geller told RT. “This is a war in the information battle space, and I think your side is doing an incredibly brilliant job. I tip my hat to you. I think we are unprepared.”
Kincaid and Geller have asked Republican Congressman Peter King (R-NY) to include RT and Al Jazeera in his highly controversial hearings on the radicalization of Muslims in America.
“We think Congressman King is off to a good start with his hearings about internal security threats in the form of radical Islam. We do think it ought to be expanded to look into foreign propaganda channels like Russia Today on American soil. We’d all also like to look at Al Jazeera,” Kincaid told RT.
Kincaid and Geller’s campaign came even as Americans increasingly turn to foreign broadcasters like France 24, Al Jazeera, RT and TeleSUR for fresher views as US corporate media focus on entertainment news and punditry.
“We've opened up these huge gaps because we're more interested in reality TV and conflict and people bashing the president than having people on the ground finding out what the problems are. And when you do that you can produce a product that people here and around the world are going to respect,” said Chambers.
While appearing before a congressional committee, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared the US is losing the global information war and requires extra funds to compete with others in a global propaganda 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 are done,’ and unfortunately we are paying a big price for it,” she said. “Our private media cannot fill that gap.”
Clinton directly referenced the success of Al Jazeera, China's CCTV and RT as reasons the US needs to step-up and increase funding to its media machine.
“We are in an information war and we are losing that war. Al Jazeera is winning, the Chinese have opened a global multi-language television network, the Russians have opened up an English-language network. I’ve seen it in a few countries, and it is quite instructive,” Clinton remarked.
In her testimony, Clinton also admitted one man in Afghanistan she encountered was so unfamiliar with US culture; he thought everything operated like Baywatch.
As globalization spread, so did the diversity of information and its dissemination. Western media, such as CNN, no longer leads the pack in an increasing competitive market.
Clinton has called on Congress to increase funding so that the US may continue into a new age of information warfare, taking to new technologies and new media tools such as Twitter, where the State Department has recently begun Tweeting in Arabic, Farsi, Hindi and a number of other languages.
Radio host Alex Jones said American media has lied and issued fake information for political gain, in addition to doing the bidding of global elites as opposed to providing proper information.
“So called US television and print media, The Washington Post, The New York Times have lied about WMDs that didn’t exist, have lied about terror threats, “ Jones argued. “They would issues fake terror alerts for Political gain. The American people realize that our media doesn’t speak for us and is being used basically to propagandize not just us, but the world.”
He argued the US media is falling behind and no one trusts them any longer. They have lost their control on the people of the US and rest of the world.
Jones argued Clinton does not speak for America either. All she is doing is hitting a “panic button” to demand more money.
“I would tell the State Department, stop lying, stop engaging in disinformation, stop attacking freedom, stop attacking other sovereign nations, stop being propaganda,” Jones said. “You guys [State Department] used the public faith and abused it to the point of; if you even tell the truth, no one believes you.”
He added, “No one believes this Orwellian propaganda system anymore.”
Chris Chambers, a professor at Georgetown University said corporatization of media has led to sensationalism in America and a lack of reporting. US television has evolved to mainly consist of reality and other sensationalized television which is then sent abroad and undercuts the true American message.
“That’s the downfall right there,” he said.
He explained that US networks are not on the ground abroad and thus have little understanding of the local people. They are unable to communicate effectively because they are too wrapped up in reality TV and talking heads as opposed to facts.
Clinton is seeking funding to become a propaganda arm, he said, as opposed to becoming a government news arm. Unlike Al-Jazeera and RT, the propaganda arm will not report and inform, it will be a message creation campaign.
“She [Clinton] wants millions and billions for PR, not for news. RT is providing news and that’s what they have to understand. There is a difference. That’s why we are losing this war,” Chambers commented.