U.S. Public Diplomacy Head Gives Incomplete and Misleading Answers about Elimination of U.S. Broadcasts to Russia, Georgia, and India

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs James K. Glassman

FreeMediaOnline.org Logo. FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online Blog Commentary by Ted Lipien, October 4, 2008, San Francisco — James Glassman, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, gave incomplete and misleading answers when asked Friday whether the elimination of vernacular broadcasts to Georgia, Russia, and India is going to hurt his “war of ideas” effort. Speaking in Washington at a National Press Club luncheon on “The New Age of Public Diplomacy,” Glassman seemed surprised and annoyed by the question.

His answer that the U.S. is not eliminating but increasing broadcasts to Georgia was clearly misleading since as a former chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) he had voted earlier to eliminate Voice of America (VOA) Georgian and Ukrainian radio broadcasts and was forced to reverse his position only after Russia attacked Georgia. 

Glassman also gave an incomplete, convoluted and misleading answer on the elimination of VOA radio broadcasts to Russia. He failed to mention that he had approved the ending of VOA radio to Russia just 12 days before Russian troops entered Georgia. He continues to oppose their resumption.

Glassman also failed to mention that the BBG staff working under his guidance and with the support from the Senate staff of Senator Biden acted with great urgency and in great secrecy to take VOA Russian radio broadcasts off the air in late July. The secrecy was needed to prevent alerting other members of Congress and human rights and press freedom organizations who have been overwhelmingly opposed to this move and have warned him not to proceed. He ignored these warnings.

Glassman was also disingenuous in saying that the Voice of America is now pursuing a program delivery strategy using the Internet because only about 2 percent of Russians listen to shortwave broadcasts and Mr. Putin has closed down most of the affiliates who were rebroadcasting VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty programs on FM. While his comment about shortwave listenership and FM affiliates is essentially accurate, Glassman failed to mention that the BBG staff, headed by former RFE/RL acting president Jeff Trimble, is preventing the VOA Russian Service from producing any kind of radio broadcasts, even for the Internet. Glassman was Executive Vice President of U.S. News & World Report, which also employed Jeff Trimble. Glassman and Trimble have worked together and with Senator Biden’s former chief of staff Ted Kaufman, a BBG member, to eliminate VOA’s ability to produce radio broadcasts to Russia. Glassman, who is a Republican, was a Bush Administration appointee to the BBG.

While making the point of the importance of reaching a target audience in Russia, Glassman also failed to mention that when he had voted to cut VOA radio broadcasts in Russian the service was still able to use an AM transmitter in Moscow.  The AM transmitter continues to be available and can utilized to reach decision makers in the Russian capital. RFE/RL still uses an AM transmitter in Moscow.

Glassman also failed to mention that while he is preventing the Voice of America from broadcasting radio to Russia on shortwave, he together with Senator Biden supports such broadcasts by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. RFE/RL is incorporated in Delaware, Senator Biden’s home state.

Human rights and media freedom organizations have been raising questions whether RFE/RL, which has a large staff of local reporters in Russia, can be effective and independent while the Kremlin’s security services are monitoring and intimidating Russian journalists. A Russian human rights organization has also criticized RFE/RL for giving extensive airtime to an extremist Russian politician known for his racist views.

In giving his superficial and misleading answers Friday at a National Press Club luncheon, Glassman was clearly counting that the audience does not have the necessary background information to evaluate his facts and analysis. The Voice of America and the BBG  employees’ union described Glassman as unwilling to admit a mistake. Here is what the AFGE Local 1812 reported on its website:

DATELINE: Washington, 08/13/08.  James Glassman, the former Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and the current surrogate for the Secretary of State on the BBG, visited the Voice of America (VOA) Russian and Georgian Services late in the afternoon on Tuesday, August 12th.  Both Services assumed that he was coming to announce that the BBG had acted rashly when it announced in July that it was going to end the Russian and Georgian radio broadcasts, among others.  The BBG had ended the VOA Russian radio broadcasts on July 26th.  The VOA Georgian radio broadcasts are as yet still on the air.

The employees had misinterpreted the reason for his visit.  Glassman announced that he was visiting them just to thank them for all their hard work.  Both Services informed him that the Russian media were broadcasting old Soviet style propaganda.  The VOA Russian Service members announced that they were ready and eager to begin broadcasts again in order to counter the Russian propaganda. They were told that a reallocation of funds had taken place and that would not change. When asked if the Georgian Service would continue broadcasts after September 30th, he told the employees that he didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up.

Watch Video:

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs James K. Glassman at the National Press Club luncheon, September 3, 2008. Comments about China and  U.S. broadcasting to Russia, Georgia, and India start about 39 min. into the video.