How does U.S. broadcasting advance public diplomacy priorities for the U.S.?

My view has always been that U.S international broadcasting is journalism with purpose, not, as many have argued, to burnish the U.S. image, but, rather to advance vital U.S. interests. Its stock in trade is accurate, credible journalism. And the purpose and power of such journalism varies by country and circumstance. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, it counters violent extremist propaganda. In Egypt and Yemen, it nurtures the democratic opposition. In the Balkans, it fosters ethnic and national reconciliation. In Nigeria and Rwanda, it eases inter-religious and tribal tension. In North Korea and Cuba, it reveals the folly and failure of command economies and dynastic rule. In Belarus and Ukraine, it exposes chronic corruption and cronyism. My interest in public diplomacy has always been to “move the needle” – that is, to have a real effect on the ground. With a weekly reach to some 165 million people in the languages they speak (59 overall), U.S. international broadcasting is doing that in virtually every global hot spot where U.S. interests are critically in play.

What do you perceive to be the biggest challenge to U.S. international broadcasting today?

There is absolutely no doubt that the problem is distribution. Absent interference such as radio jamming and Internet blocking (China, Iran, Ethiopia, et al), laws proscribing breaking news content (Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, et al), denials of local broadcast rights (Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, et al), U.S. international broadcasting easily would gain another 50 million listeners and viewers.

What do you perceive to be the biggest area for potential growth or opportunity with U.S. international broadcasting today?

Social media. Aggressive development of social media will fundamentally alter the broadcasting model — to show that facilitating free discourse can foster freedom and democracy, the BBG’s core mission, as much as exemplifying a free press, the agency’s age-old paradigm.

Where are some regions where U.S. international broadcasting has been particularly successful? Where is it lacking?

No two places have been more important to U.S. strategic interests over the last 10years than Iraq and Afghanistan, and in both countries U.S. international broadcasting has achieved astounding audiences and impact. Total weekly reach in Afghanistan and Iraq is 65 percent and 72 percent respectively. And in both counties U.S. broadcasters are not only among the leaders in audience but are also top sources of news with excellent scores for news reliability. This is not to overlook Haiti, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Burma, Cambodia, Armenia, Serbia, Albania, and many more countries where U.S. international broadcasting is in a market-leading position. Yet when one considers the accolades U.S. international broadcasting has gotten, and rightly so, for its work during the Cold War, it amazes me that today’s broadcasters, including those working for Arab-language Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa and Farsi-language Persian News Network, have been so little recognized for their efforts. The one region where the broadcasting has struggled, amidst stiff media competition, is Latin America.

Besides the BBC, what are other international broadcasting networks that you think the US should look to as an example?

Fellow Western broadcasters the BBC, Radio France International, Deutsche Welle, and Radio Netherlands Worldwide are all close colleagues and do excellent work. Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya would merit our admiration, especially for supporting the Middle East democracy movement, were it not for their penchant to turn a blind eye to pro-democracy activities within the countries in which they are headquartered, and for their too frequent incitement of pan-Arab nationalism and their reflexive criticism of Israel and the U.S.

Ambassador James K. Glassman is the founding executive director of the George W. Bush Institute, dedicated to research and action in four areas: education, global health, human freedom, and economic growth.  The Institute is part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which will also include a library and museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Glassman served as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs from June 2008 to January 2009, leading the government-wide international strategic communications effort.  Among his accomplishments at the State Department was bringing new Internet technology to bear on outreach to foreign publics, an approach he christened “Public Diplomacy 2.0.”

Prior to his State Department post, from June 2007 to June 2008, he was chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, directing all non-military, taxpayer-funded U.S. international broadcasting, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Alhurra TV. He continued to serve as governor of the BBG, representing the Secretary of State, during his post as Under Secretary.