How is informational power that states employ in today’s turbulent world making an impression on increasing billions of people in this multimedia age?
DEFINITIONS OF POWER AND HOW IT IS USED
- Hard power, or sheer military might: applied internationally in times of crisis.
- Soft power, or public diplomacy: designed to persuade and listen to those seeking answers in a crisis-plagued planet. And now:
- Sharp power, a term coined by the National Endowment for Democracy which says Russia and China are using it increasingly. According to NED, they do so to advance their agendas in the guise of “news.” The content is actually shaped primarily to discredit U.S. cultural and educational programs as well as American interests globally.
In 2017, the Voice of America’s incisive, on-scene and often exclusive reportage and that of the BBC and other publicly-funded primarily Western international broadcasters made a significant impact by providing a “voice for the voiceless” the world over. The cutting edge of the facts speaks truth to power.
2017 ILLUSTRATIONS OF THAT “CUTTING EDGE”
North Korea: North Korea’s highest ranking defector, Thae Young-Ho, told VOA News Center/Korean service reporters that Pyongyang officialdom requires all high-ranking officials there to read transcripts of VOA Korean updated twice daily. He urged VOA to strengthen its broadcasts even further, “so that one day,” Mr. Thae said, “I hope VOA is remembered by the North Korean people as a main player who contributed a lot for the reunification of the Korean peninsula.”
A VOA Turkish Service reporter had a chance encounter this past year with another North Korean defector, Ji Seong-ho. As Mr. Ji put it in an exclusive VOA interview: “I think many North Koreans make themselves aware of realities by secretly listening to the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia… the international community should keep pressuring North Korea, which is continuing along the nuclear path without knowing what the consequences would be. Only pressure can show that Kim Jong Un is wrong.”
The Balkans: Montenegro’s President Filip Vujanovic presented VOA Director Amanda Bennett with that tiny country’s highest award for the Voice’s ‘solid honest reportage’ – just about 15 months after an ill-fated Serbian-led coup inspired by Russia nearly toppled Montenegro’s democratic system. President Vujanovic welcomed the visiting VOA director to the country’s capital, Podgorica last September. He paid tribute to the Voice’s more than seven decades on the air to the Balkans, adding: “Today, VOA is a globally significant media outlet providing us with local and international news, as well as stories about the U.S., its culture and values of democracy.”
Africa: Also in 2017, a series of reports by VOA Africa Division and Central News correspondents entitled “Hunger Across Africa” won the final prize of the coveted Cowan Award. The series in 2017 included more than 120 exclusive on-scene reports of famine from Somalia to Gambia across drought stricken Central Africa.
Appeals for desperately needed aid in this series also included VOA reports or interviews with U.N. and U.S. officials in Geneva, London, the U.N. and Washington to feed refugees and those fleeing from starvation or civil wars. More than six and a half million people are on the brink of survival or fleeing their homelands to seek a better life. International aid specialists have called it the most serious humanitarian crisis since World War II.
Another example of cutting edge reportage in 2017 was VOA’s award winning 55-minute documentary, “Boko Haram: Journey from Evil”. It included exclusive footage of Boko Haram executions which accidentally fell into the hands of a VOA Hausa Service producer reporting from West Africa. The documentary featured interviews with community activists across Nigeria determined to eradicate the conditions which spawned Boko Haram. The documentary has been broadcast by VOA in at least seven languages. It was initially unveiled to audiences at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington and Chatham House in London. Today, you can watch the multimedia documentary at www.voanews.com, the Voice’s principal website.
As U.S. international broadcasting CEO John Lansing put it, on introducing “Boko Haram: Journey from Evil,” at the Peace Institute: “The trust that inspired someone to give these tapes to a VOA journalist re-affirms the network’s one-of-a kind role in telling the hard-to-reach stories… the little-known stories and the unreported stories.”
“This gripping documentary,” Mr. Lansing added, “not only highlights Boko Haram’s origins, history and devastating impact, it also counters the terrorist group’s narrative and exposes its brutal treatment of Muslims, as well as others. It reaches beyond violence to show how Nigerians are recovering from war… and highlights the courage of Nigerians who every day are committed to peace, family and community.”
Burma: Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) recalled for Washington Post correspondent Fred Hiatt in late December about meeting former Burmese political prisoners during the Senator’s recent trip to their southeast Asian homeland. According Mr. Hiatt, as the Senator recalled: “They began to cry when they heard his voice — having heard him, on the Voice of America, speak up for human rights.”
SOWING SEEDS OF EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM
The Broadcasting Board of Governors Office of Training and Development did just that by sending teams consisting of primarily VOA broadcasters and producers to train nearly 1,000 print and new media professionals in 28 African, South and Central Asian, Middle East, European and Latin American countries. They stressed the VOA Charter mandating accurate, objective and comprehensive news. These “idea seeds” will benefit millions in 2018 and well beyond.
Also this past year, cooperation among U. S. government-funded international media expanded in ways unmatched in the 75-year history of this fine art. To summarize:
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and VOA formally launched Current Time in Russian, an around the clock multimedia service produced in Prague and aimed at Russia and its near abroad. They also collaborated on a new website entitled Polygraph.info, designed specifically to correct misinformation or false statements by Russian officials and media such as Moscow-sponsored RT or Sputnik.
- VOA Persian, beginning with President Trump’s inaugural address, broadcast live more than 60 video reports shared with RFE/RL’s Persian Service, Radio Farda. Among these: a four-hour live TV program of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo as well as other key events in Congress. VOA Persian YouTube videos were viewed more than 19.7 million times in 2017.
- VOA and RFA regularly exchanged materials on Cambodia and Burma, as well as North Korea.
All U.S. government funded networks for the second year in a row attained an all-time record audience of 278 million multimedia users each week, including 236 million to VOA. Objective journalism matters, whether on the U.S.-funded networks, the BBC, and other state broadcasters who strive to “tell it as it is.” Unvarnished, carefully sourced information is bound to ultimately prevail in a digital age. As America’s founders put it: “Let FACTS be submitted to a candid world.”