Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the independent federal agency in Washington, DC, wrote in an introduction to its Facebook post on March 25, 2016 that there is “wholesale racism” in Israel. [Emphasis added.] This stunning and, in my view, false and irresponsible message from a U.S. government-supported outlet on a social media page paid for by U.S. taxpayers can easily incite terrorist groups like ISIL, Hamas or Hezbollah to commit more mass murders against Israelis, Europeans, and Americans, as well as anybody else. Innocent victims of misguided extremists can be Christians, Jews, Muslims, people of other faiths, men, women and children.
Terrorists and their sympathizers who are already prone to commit violent acts do not need much to set them off. The introduction to the RFE/RL Facebook post for an RFE/RL report on airport security measures after the terrorist attacks in Brussels read:
“I fear that by Europe instituting the same rules that Israel is instituting, it’s going to lead down the same path that Israel has led down to, which is wholesale racism…”
This inflammatory introduction was in quotes, but RFE/RL did not attribute it to anyone on its Facebook post which eventually disappeared after a few days. According to the RFE/RL online article, this comment was made by Diana Buttu, a lawyer and Israeli citizen of Palestinian descent. RFE/RL report says that she also holds a Canadian citizenship. RFE/RL does not identify her as a former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization. RFE/RL also did not mention some of her other unconventional views. According to a Wikipedia article, in a 2008 CNN interview she reportedly insisted that Palestinian rockets do not have explosive warheads. In a 2014 interview with CNN, she reportedly downplayed Hamas’s alleged use of human shields.
Even a one minute look at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website is usually sufficient to find major journalistic and public diplomacy shortcomings, but also a lot of high quality content prepared by talented and experienced journalists. It proves that RFE/RL lacks good managerial and editorial leadership and proper support and oversight from the BBG. Such uneven performance and mismanagement can be very dangerous in the face of terrorist threats.
This is happening because the BBG is an agency with a lot of negative talent within its executive and managerial ranks. Don’t expect most of them to be able to analyze news content for potential problems and to optimize it for the greatest impact. John Lansing has been doing his best, but don’t count on most of the BBG executives he inherited to investigate themselves and admit mistakes. The agency has some truly bad managers judging by dismal employee morale ratings from the Office of Personnel Management OPM surveys and the number of employee lawsuits the BBG has lost in recent years. A new $400 million class action lawsuit alleging underpayment and discrimination of exploited and poorly supervised BBG contract employees was filed in a federal court in December 2015.
There is an interim solution that can help new BBG CEO John Lansing until Congress passes legislation to reform and restructure the agency. As a journalist, I’m somewhat reluctant to make this proposal, but something must be done immediately. With the United States, Europe, Middle East, Asia, and Africa under attack from terrorists as never before, these incredible errors in judgement must not happen again.
To make America safer, broadcasts and online content generated by VOA, RFE/RL and other media entities of the Broadcasting Board of Governors should be comprehensively analyzed once again by U.S. embassies abroad for potential risks to U.S. national security. This was done routinely during the Cold War, which the West won thanks to Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and the Voice of America. These broadcasters were much better managed and monitored before the BBG was created. U.S. Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel, who represents the Secretary of State at BBG meetings, must issue a blanket order requesting enhanced reporting by American diplomats abroad on BBG program content and provide these unclassified analyses to BBG Governors, members of Congress and American public. Propaganda is used as a weapon by ISIL and Vladimir Putin. Bad journalism in response to it can contribute to deaths of innocent people, whether in Israel, Nigeria or in eastern Ukraine.
Such additional U.S. government oversight is clearly justified in a national emergency represented by worldwide violent terrorism. I am not calling for censorship but for analysis. My proposal does not mean that American diplomats and other government officials can dictate news and force the BBG to carry propaganda, which would be completely counterproductive. There is already a legal firewall against it.
But enhanced U.S. embassy analysis and reporting could force the agency, whose bureaucrats still refuse to acknowledge existence of any problems, to deal with them. If the BBG won’t, then the Congress and the White House should move to abolish the BBG and start a new entity which would be capable of effectively challenging the false narrative of Russia’s RT and ISIL’s violent ideology. The security of Americans depends on it.
Ted Lipien is a journalist, writer, media freedom activist and former acting associate director of the Voice of America.