It may seem ironic to quote a Russian news correspondent to lead off a report about the future of U.S. government international broadcasting. But Kalyagan is quite right. Political decisions have dominated the discussion. The debate over the future of America's Cold War broadcasting instruments--The Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberty (RL)--has been based largely on past conquests.
There is little question of their great impact on formerly closed societies. When asked about the influence of RFE in Poland, Polish leader Lech Walesa responded, "Could there be an earth without a sun?" Communist propagandists, it seems, were always playing catch-up. "In propaganda, you have to be first to put a spin on a certain event," said another Russian, Alexander Shalnev, U.S. bureau chief of the newspaper Izvestia. "You guys [U.S. Information Agency] were saying the first words on almost every subject. We were always on the defensive. In propaganda, you have to be on the offensive all the time to be successful. We lost it completely."
What the United States has lost is the familiar enemy--the Soviet "evil empire"--on which program objectives were focused and against which congressional funding committees were rallied. Since 1990, therefore, more than a dozen major studies have been commissioned by the White House, Congress, and various government agencies on the future of government international broadcasting in the wake of the collapse of communism in Europe and the former Soviet Union. New budget constraints and the changing world political landscape recently have prompted the Clinton administration to request a consolidation of government international broadcasting; some program services may be merged, but others will be eliminated.
In these changing times, however, the dialogue must be expanded beyond the question of the survival of shortwave radios to redefine how America will present itself to a vastly different world, which has already been transformed by technology into a global electronic bulletin board.
The debate, heretofore centered in the Congress, also largely ignores another important aspect of these U.S.-sponsored broadcasting efforts: how will the nation's new message be presented to America? As the United States reaches out with its message abroad, an increasing number of its citizens will be able to see and hear its broadcasts at home via backyard TV satellite dishes and to read its texts on their home computer terminals, in spite of a federal law banning the domestic dissemination of such material.
The purpose of the two-part colloquium entitled U.S. FOREIGN AFFAIRS IN THE NEW INFORMATION AGE was to illuminate several important issues. Part One explored the potential adaptations of public diplomacy to the changing global community. Part Two considered whether the ban on domestic dissemination of United States Information Agency (USIA) programs should be eliminated. This report draws on the transcripts from the colloquium, government documents, and interviews conducted by the author.