02 November 2010

The Credibility Question

(This is the second excerpt from my remarks to John Brown’s Georgetown University class.)

“Credibility trumps everything else when it comes our role as a government funded international broadcaster.” – Danforth Austin, VOA Director

But here is the follow-up question I put to the Director: “Is it possible to convince audiences of our credibility when many people believe it is automatically undermined by virtue of us being part of the U.S. government? How can we surmount that?”

Here’s what Director Austin replied:

“As a [foreign] newspaper editor…put it to me on a visit last year: ‘VOA, CIA, what's the difference?’ So yes, while in the dark days of WWII the name ‘Voice of America’ may have resonated with much of the rest of the world as the voice of freedom and hope, the moniker can carry a very different connotation in today's world.”

He went on:

“Of course, private-sector American media often get tarred with the same brush, especially in the foreign press which tends to see all of us as agents of Uncle Sam. More difficult to address is the perception among the chattering classes here that being funded by the USG means, ipso facto, that our reporting on the US will be less than objective, that we may even be obligated to shill for the government and its policies. Indeed, there are people on the Hill who believe that's exactly what we should be doing.”

Director Austin’s conclusion about how we contend with the doubts about our credibility:

“The only way I know to combat that perception is to continue to do our jobs as professionally as we know how, and to make sure that the public understands when and why we do this…”

(Next: Firewall or Political Football)

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