New America FoundationBy Alie PerezDecember 8, 2010Leading lights in the international broadcasting space will be congregating at New America this afternoon to weigh in on the subject of International Broadcasting and Public Media: Mission and Innovation in the Digital Environment. Yet in many ways, this event is simply a continuation of previous discussions hosted by the Media Policy Initiative.This fall, New America hosted Mark Thompson, the Director General of the British Broadcasting Corporation, for an event entitled “Public Media in a Digital Age: Broadcast, Broadband and Beyond.” Three panelists—Paula Kerger, President of the Public Broadcasting Service; Geneva Overholser, Director of USC Annenberg's School of Journalism; and Nicholas Lemann, Dean of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism—joined Thompson for a discussion of the challenges of public media in the current digital age, moderated by Steve Coll, President of the New America Foundation.And as we pointed out in a previous blog post, technological innovations are transforming the way public media and international broadcasting institutions do business. At the same time, international broadcasters’ missions and programming practices are being challenged and transformed around the world—from the BBC to Moscow-based multilingual television news network Russia Today to Al Jazeera, the international news network headquartered in Doha, Qatar.For our purposes, U.S. international broadcasting orgs such as Public Radio International and Kerger’s own PBS have their own new path to blaze. From Mark Thompson’s remarks at New America and the ensuing panel discussion, for example, it is clear that U.S. public media (and thus, much of the country’s international broadcasting) have traditionally differed in several ways from the rest of the world’s public media entities.In comparing the different approaches to public media in the UK and the US, it is clear that legal and cultural differences are at the heart of the countries’ varied uses of public media. American journalists, for example, tend to be against any appearance of the government having control over independent coverage. In the UK, on the other hand, government-funded media reaches 97% of the population and is often an marker of distinction on a journalist’s resume. Putting these differences aside, however, there is one area in which British public media veers most dramatically from that in the US: internationally distributed content.A significant portion of the BBC’s resources has been channeled to fulfilling an international mission. Thompson’s speech centered on the idea that that mission is essential to the BBC’s character; the prominence of BBC World Service operations underscored this premise. Thompson noted that the BBC’s presence in Haiti, for example, outlasted most other media outlets, and the newly created Creole service out of Miami has been helpful to those involved with Haiti’s rebuilding efforts. While the focus in American media is usually on covering international events, the BBC has made a point of increasing its presence broadcasting to international markets, as well.This focus on international coverage and distribution has not only been beneficial to the home audience in the UK but also to local audiences. Thompson referred to a recently commissioned survey of BBC consumers in Kenya, Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey, where all four countries’ audiences said that out of the BBC, CNN International, Voice of America, and Al Jazeera, they would miss the BBC most if it went off the air. Moreover, the global impact of this news organization was later evident in the Q&A section, when a representative of the International Center for Journalists noted that the BBC is highly respected for hiring international journalists as content providers and for making investments through training local journalists.Voice of America was motivated by different priorities at its start, perhaps. Yet the news service, broadcasting since 1942 “to get reliable news to people living in closed and war-torn societies,” estimates that it reaches around 125 million people around the world. Based on the provisions of the Smith-Mundt Act (the US Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948) that established the news service, no VOA content can be broadcast domestically. Some strong challenges to this prohibition have been issued in recent years (see articles in Foreign Policy and World Politics Review), and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations issued a report on this very topic this past June, including the following recommendation:“Congress should revisit the Smith-Mundt legislation, which was passed originally in 1948 and later amended, which bans U.S. Government broadcasting within the U.S. for fear the government would unduly influence its own citizens. Today, however, Russia and China and other entities currently broadcast in English in the United States. Additionally, recent Arabic-speaking immigrants to the United States are able to watch Al Jazeera but prevented by Smith-Mundt from viewing Al Hurra. These realities, coupled with the rise of the Internet, which enables computer users in the U.S. to receive video and audio streams of BBG broadcasts and readily access BBG Web sites, demonstrate that aspects of the legislation are both anachronistic and potentially harmful.”Considering the current financial straits of American journalism and the decreasing amount of foreign coverage, what does this prohibition really mean for American international broadcasting? Kerger noted during the panel that PBS, in contrast to commercial media outlets in America, is expanding its foreign bureaus and coverage. Perhaps it would be a better use of resources for there to be more cross-over between American public media and the Voice of America; maybe there are opportunities for VOA to collaborate with public media institutions—benefiting American interests abroad and domestic, without breaking the spirit of Smith-Mundt.However, the culture has one problem that will be much tougher to crack: many journalists’ distrust of government in general, so that the idea of government funding is synonymous with government having editorial control. After noting that the British structure of public media was not likely to cross the pond anytime soon—an observation which drew a big laugh from the audience—Lemann suggested studying firewalls used in non-journalism contexts, such as at the Office of Management and Budget; that is, public media can explore and build on the mechanisms in place to prevent political influence and ensure the spread of accurate, independent data and conclusions."Public service broadcasting is an idea,” Thompson said. “At least in Britain, we still believe in that idea.” It now remains to be seen what directions American public media will take—whether the American public will come to view these news outlets as an even greater resource, and whether the journalistic establishment will ever come to see them as allies instead of threats.As rapid technological change sweeps across the globe, affecting global audiences with the rise of the Internet and the fact that global youth today spend so much time reading blogs and playing computer games, it is clear that the mission of international broadcasters in the future may include practices and media that will be very different from the past.International broadcasting is also an idea—one that can manifest itself practically in many ways due to technological innovations, cultural differences, and differing approaches. At New America’s event today, we expect to see lively discussion, as well as new ideas for the future of this vitally important field.
11 dicembre 2010
La New America Foundation e broadcasting internazionale
Un incontro organizzato dalla sezione Media Policy della New America Foundation a proposito dell'evoluzione del broadcasting internazionale ha offerto molti spunti di riflessione sul ruolo che emittenti come Voice of America e BBC World Service potrebbero continuare a svolgere in un contesto di "diplomazia della trasparenza". Dico potrebbero perché come ben sappiamo la funzione di questi broadcaster è minacciata da una politica di tagli indiscriminati messa in pratica dai governi di ogni colore. La motivazione di questi tagli è la crisi economica, ma a me sta francamente venendo il sospetto che la crisi sia diventata un ottimo paravento per nascondere intenzioni tutt'affatto diverse. La natura indipendente e qualificata di voci come la VOA o la BBC non deve essere vista di buon occhio da amministratori la cui insofferenza nei confronti delle critiche sembra essere direttamente proporzionale alle proprie incapacità. Governanti che prima adottano comportamenti scriteriati e sicuramente forieri di guai e tracolli finanziari e poi vengono a batter cassa con politiche anti-sociali che guarda caso colpiscono soprattutto la scuola e le fonti di informazione, sono molto somiglianti alle figure di dittatori che i programmi della VOA cercano di mettere nella giusta luce presso le popolazioni interessate dalle politiche antidemocratiche di certi regimi. Il fatto che anche i meccanismi elettorali democratici finiscano per dare il potere a governi altrettanto mediocri è deprimente. Le "azioni" svolte dai broadcaster internazionali, sono inoltre molto più comprensibili, sul piano dell'etica internazionale, delle guerre scatenate con motivazioni spesso fasulle o pretestuose dai politici che oggi mettono di fatto il bavaglio a questi "eserciti senza armi".
L'incontro tenutosi a Washington lo scorso 8 dicembre si è aperto con una interessantissima discussione con il preside della Columbia University Lee Bollinger e una giornalista di Foreign Policy a proposito del caso WikiLeaks. Il filmato di questa conversazione è disponibile sul sito di NAF.