On September 30, 2009, The Heritage Foundation hosted “The Year of Miracles: The Fall of the Berlin Wall Twentieth Anniversary.” A reoccurring theme of the event centered on America’s use of government-sponsored broadcasting and its effects on U.S. influence during the Cold War and how it must be used today. While government-sponsored broadcasting was just one of the many successful public diplomacy tools utilized by the United States, former Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, James Glassman emphasized that the United States still has much to learn in the way that it conducts its public diplomacy initiatives.
For example, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has five out of their nine positions filled. Furthermore, the Board has slashed language services to Ukraine, India, Georgia and many other countries that depended on news service such as Voice of America for international news. Clearly the spreading America’s message of democracy and freedom is not high on the current administration’s agenda.
This was not the case on November 9, 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. America’s message to those living under communist rule, as President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Jeffrey Gedmin has so aptly put it, “were designed to provide the…domestic news and information that their own government denied them.” The people who most depended on international news service received it. The same cannot be said today when America, who according to Gedmin as being “out-communicated” by insurgents broadcasting information from the backs of donkeys in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The United States must re-adjust strategy in the information war. Surrogate broadcasting, as Gedmin explains: reminds governments of U.S. commitments to democracy and human rights. It helps to convey that just as in the Cold War, the United States cares about the fate of civilians and is ready to support those who are willing to struggle for greater freedom, respect for human rights, and the rule of law.
The United States won the information war once and it can do it again, if the administration deems it worthy.