The end of on-the-air broadcasts of Voice of America couldn’t come at worse time: Russia is providing an utterly skewed and one-sided picture of the war in Georgia domestically, while the Internet has only 15% to 18% penetration, limited primarily to medium and large cities.
Russia’s online audience is mostly young(er), urban and educated, which leaves many people in the aging country clueless as to what’s really going on. There are plenty of pro-government sites in the RU.net universe, many TV channels with plenty of Russian “patriotic” fare and entertainment, but very few that present an objective view of the fighting.
As a child growing up in Russia, my peers and I were all glued to Voice of America, Radio Liberty, BBC and other Western broadcasts. They demolished the lies of the Soviet propaganda machine. They undermine credibility of the Communist regime. They read to us the soaring words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the great Nobel winning writer who passed away last week.
Today, when we should be engaged in war of ideas against radical Islamists, the situation is quite different. U.S. international broadcasting lacks talent, budget and credibility — be it Arabic, Farsi or Russian. Stations have a hard time competing with Al Jazeera, BBC or Russian state-run TV.
Voice of America, and Russian and Eurasian services in particular, have been badly mismanaged during the last 15 years. But in the last several years the bungling is beyond belief, including an inability to attract capable managers, journalists and editors, not paying outside contributors, not succeeding to reach out to Russian audiences through TV or AM frequencies from neighboring countries, failure to launch a serious TV-through-Internet effort, etc.
This is yet another sorry case of a breakdown of U.S. international broadcasting while global challenges are on the rise.